Trending Research: Using Eye Exams to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease

The eyes reveal clues to brain health.

If, as Shakespeare said, the eyes are windows to the soul, the retina is a window to the brain.

Located at the back of the eye, the retina sends visual signals from the eyes to the brain. Research now indicates that it may also reveal clues about brain health. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease often have visual problems. Since the disease develops decades before symptoms occur, understanding the relationship between the retina and brain may help doctors detect Alzheimer’s early, when treatment is most effective.alzheimers eye exam

That’s the hope of Delia Cabrera DeBuc, Ph.D. She studies the link between Alzheimer’s and the retina in her work at the McKnight Vision Research Center at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System.

For the last 10 years, Dr. Cabrera DeBuc has explored ways to make diagnostic eye imaging methods more effective. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is one such method. OCT is a non-invasive diagnostic tool that produces high-resolution, cross-sectional views of the inside and back of the eye. By examining these images, eye doctors and researchers like Dr. Cabrera DeBuc can detect abnormalities in the retina.

Dr. Cabrera DeBuc also studies OCT images of the eye to find indicators of certain brain issues. “We can use the eye to predict problems in the brain. Disturbances in retinal blood flow or structure, for example, are linked to cognitive function.”

Looking ahead

Until recently, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease meant using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) tests. Both methods are highly expensive and invasive. OCT on the other hand, is non-invasive, less alzheimer's disease, eye examexpensive, and is now portable. “Companies are developing portable, low-cost scanners for use in nursing homes and community centers where people may not have the mobility or resources to see an eye doctor. I’m attracted to the user-friendliness of OCT,” says Dr. Cabrera DeBuc, adding, “Eventually, I envision OCT tablet scanners at walk-in clinics and metro rail stations for public screening purposes.”

OCT technology is evolving rapidly, but according to Dr. Cabrera DeBuc, it must be backed by data before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve it for Alzheimer’s diagnosis. She is doing her part to gather data through her research. In fact, Dr. Cabrera DeBuc is currently recruiting participants for a research study. Participants undergo an eye exam and non-invasive, painless tests. There is no cost to participate and incentives are offered.

For more information about participating in the study, call 305-482-4376 or email.