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A window to the brain: the retina gives away signs of Alzheimer’s disease and could help with early detection

(THE CONVERSATION) Ashleigh Barrett-Young, September 11, 2022

The retina has long been poeticised as the window to the soul, but research now shows it could be a window to the brain and act as an early warning system for cognitive decline. 

growing body of research suggests the retina is thinner in people with Alzheimer’s disease, reflecting the cell loss that is a hallmark of the neurodegenerative disease. 

We investigated a group of middle-aged people who are part of the Dunedin Study, a comprehensive longitudinal project that has continued for five decades. We found people with thinner retinal nerve fibre layers (one of the cell layers in the retina) had slower mental processing speed. This is one of the first cognitive processes to decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

The people in our study were 45 years old, which is young for investigating age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. But treatments and interventions are most effective when administered during the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s and it is crucial to find ways of identifying people’s risk as early as possible. Easy risk identification will also help with clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease treatments. 

Source: The conversation