The old adage says that the eyes are the window to the soul but a pair of new studies suggest that the eyes may also provide with a window to predicting cognitive decline. More specifically, these studies reveal that small blood vessels at the back of the eye could assist in the diagnosis of brain degeneration. Most importantly, anyone (with training) would be able to spot these changes, even before they have done any damage.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reported that these two studies suggest a special type of imaging—called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA)—that could aid medical professionals in more consistently identifying abnormalities in these small rear ocular veins. And this consistent identification could help identify early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Of course, a neurologist could use brain scans to spot the damage by the development of Alzheimer’s but lead researcher Ygal Rotenstreich MD advises that by the time a machine identifies the damage, it is already too late to treat the disease. The Sheba Medical Center of Israel Goldschleger Eye Institute ophthalmologist goes on to comment that the goal of the research was to identify an accurate and—more importantly—inexpensive test to spot Alzheimer’s disease before irreparable damage can occur.
In a separate but somewhat related study, it turns out that we can program artificial intelligence to spot Alzheimer’s disease up to six years before doctors can typically diagnose it. Essentially, they say that doctors have been able to use self-learning with computers to monitor brain scans looking for subtle changes that the human eye simply cannot detect.
While the sample size was very small (only 40 patients), the researchers agree that the results are quite promising. More importantly, if we consider the success of the other studies, as previously mentioned, we have many new ways to not only diagnose Alzheimer’s disease but perhaps be able to actually prevent it from developing in the first place. Since we still have no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, better early detection methods are currently our best strategy for combating a common neurodegenerative condition that afflicts 44 million people around the world every year.