Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: A New Look Through the Eyes
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that affects memory, thinking skills, and the ability to perform simple tasks.
Over time, this disease can seriously interfere with daily life and lead to dementia. It is most common in older people, but it can also affect younger individuals.
The New Discovery: What Did Researchers Find?
Researchers from Cedars-Sinai, a well-known medical research facility, have made an exciting discovery. They found that changes in the tiny blood vessels in the eyes might tell us more about Alzheimer’s disease.
These changes match what’s happening in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s. This finding could lead to a new way to spot the disease earlier.
How Did They Do It?
The researchers studied the eyes from people who had died – some had Alzheimer’s, some had mild cognitive impairment (a less severe form of memory loss), and some had normal brain function.
They found that people with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment had a significant issue: the barrier that stops harmful things from getting into the eyes was damaged.
Imagine this barrier as a wall made of cells. In healthy eyes, the wall is strong and keeps harmful substances out.
But in the eyes of people with Alzheimer’s, the wall had gaps as big as 70%. It was as if the wall had crumbled, allowing harmful stuff to sneak in.
The researchers also noticed that the damage to the eye barrier was linked to another condition common in Alzheimer’s patients called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).
In CAA, a protein called amyloid builds up in the small blood vessels in the brain.
What Does This Mean for People with Alzheimer’s?
Previously, doctors could only spot CAA by examining brain tissue after a person had died. But with this new discovery and more research, doctors might be able to detect CAA in living patients by looking at their eyes.
Moreover, the researchers found that a protein named amyloid beta 40 was building up in the eyes’ blood vessels.
This buildup made the vessels stiff and made it hard for blood to flow, similar to how a clog might slow down water in a pipe. This blockage could stop the blood vessels from removing harmful stuff from the eye.
But the researchers aren’t sure if this buildup is a result of the damage to the blood vessels, or if it’s the cause. Further studies are needed to find this out.
The researchers are excited about the potential of advanced retinal imaging, a new technique that could examine the eyes’ blood vessels and spot protein buildup noninvasively in living patients.
This technique is still in development and not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the agency in the U.S. that regulates medical devices and drugs.
What Can We Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s?
Until these new diagnostic methods become available, it’s crucial to keep our blood vessels healthy, not just in our eyes but also in our brains. This might help prevent CAA and dementia.
How can we keep our blood vessels healthy? Dr. Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, the lead researcher on the study, recommends a few things.
First, control your blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage your blood vessels over time.
Second, eat a healthy diet that’s low in sugar. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease, all of which can harm your blood vessels.
Third, cut down on alcohol. Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure and damage your liver, among other health problems.
Finally, don’t smoke. Smoking harms your blood vessels and can lead to heart disease.
Why Does This Matter?
Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of people worldwide. This study provides valuable insight into how the disease progresses and how we might detect it earlier.
The sooner we can detect Alzheimer’s, the sooner we can start treatment to slow its progression.
This research shows that by looking at our eyes, we might be able to see Alzheimer’s disease in a new light.
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about a primary cause of Alzheimer’s, and common nutrient in meat may be key to preventing Alzheimer’s.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about new trigger of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease, and results showing how alcohol, coffee and tea intake influence cognitive decline.
The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
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