This Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, Remember to Get Your Eyes Checked
June 1, 2021
They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but they can also reveal important clues about your brain’s health and reveal if you’re at risk for various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative neural disease that kills cells and damages connections between neurons. Common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty thinking, disorientation, and other issues.
Other potential symptoms include vision problems such as decreased peripheral vision, trouble with spatial relationships and issues with depth perception.
Eye exams are an excellent, non-invasive look inside the body, providing an opportunity to detect many of today’s most feared health conditions, often long before symptoms appear. When eye doctors perform an exam, they test for more than visual acuity and eye movement. They also check eye pressure, and the health of your retina and optic nerve. In doing so, an ophthalmologist or optometrist can see characteristic signs of damage to the retinal blood vessels that reflect system-wide abnormalities affecting the brain, heart, and more.
The eye-brain connection
Did you know that the optic nerve and retina are actually brain tissue that extends outside the brain? Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which are caused by damage to brain cells, both appear to have effects on the retina. That link is what fueled a study that found that seniors with visual impairment were up to 2.8 times more likely to have cognitive dysfunction, including Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, the study showed that people age 65 or older who have macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy are 40-50% more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease than people without these conditions. All three of these conditions are degenerative — meaning they get worse over time. And all three are more common as people age. While the research did not show cause and effect, it did show there is a connection.
The study goes on to find that cognitive differences pointing to dementia can show up in the density of blood vessels in the eyes. The Alzheimer’s group had fewer small retinal blood vessels in the back of the eye and a thinner retina layer. People with mild cognitive impairment did not show these changes. The researchers hypothesized that the small changes in the blood vessels may mirror small blood vessel changes in the brain.
These studies highlight how eyes are connected to the rest of the body, including the brain. It’s another example that routine eye exams are more than just tests to see if it’s time to change the prescription on your glasses, but essential insights into your overall health. Keep your eyes – and potentially your brain – healthy with a Vision Plan from INRTA and AMBA. Learn more here or call 866-979-0497.
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