A new study out of the University of Washington suggests there’s a correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and eye disorders like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and diabetic retinopathy. Researchers believe this data could help doctors better predict a person’s susceptibility to memory impairment as they age.
Scientists involved in this study analyzed the health records of over 3,800 adult patients from 1994 to 1999. All of these participants were over the age of 65 and none had dementia before the study began.
In total, over 790 patients were formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by the end of this study. Scientists found that people with AMD, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy had at least a 40 percent higher chance of getting Alzheimer’s versus people without these eye problems.
Doctors also looked for a correlation between cataracts and Alzheimer’s risk. According to this data, there’s no significant link between this common corneal disease and dementia risk.
In their report, professors admit they don’t know why there is a link between these eye symptoms and dementia-related issues. They do believe, however, that this correlation has something to do with the central nervous system.
Although there’s no direct correlation between these eye diseases and dementia, study authors hope their research will put optometrists and primary care doctors on alert. Professors also believe this study will encourage dementia researchers to pay more attention to the relationship between eye symptoms and memory problems.
With the global aging population, it’s critical for doctors to find efficient ways to screen patients for age-related issues like Alzheimer’s. Currently, there are 46 million people with some degree of dementia. World health leaders expect that number to rise to over 130 million within four decades.
Dr. Cecilia S. Lee, who teaches at the University of Washington’s Department of Ophthalmology, was the lead investigator on this project. A few other investigators involved in this research include Drs. Eric B. Larson, Laura E. Gibbons, and Paul K. Crane.
Anyone interested in this research should pick up the latest copy of the Alzheimer’s Association’s journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Researchers entitled this study, “Associations between recent and established ophthalmic conditions and risk of Alzheimer's disease”