Smell and eye tests show potential to detect Alzheimer’s early

Submitted by Josh Talkington on August 27, 2014

Patient having a yearly eye exam






More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with the disease. Alzheimer’s each year claims the lives of 500,000 Americans – 1 in 3 seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. And women are at the center of this devastating disease: almost 2/3 of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s are women.

Although treatments are available that can temporarily slow the symptoms of the disease, Alzheimer’s cannot be halted or delayed. As of yet there is no cure.

Currently, brain PET and MRI imaging are among the most common clinical tests used to identify and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies reveal, however, that simple eye and smell tests may be able to offer early detection of the disorder – and one day become a part of routine eye exams.

Decreased ability to smell odors might indicate a deterioration of brain cell function and point the way to the progression to Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers examined the sense of smell’s interaction with memory and beta-amyloid levels, a biomarker of brain cell function, along with measuring two areas of the brain: the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus. The results indicated that elevated amyloid levels corresponded with increases in the death of brain cells indicated by a thinner entorhinal cortex and associated with a decreased sense of smell.

In another study amyloid levels in the retina of the eye were investigated. When the levels found in the eye were compared with PET scan results, a significant correlation between the two was discovered.

There is hope that one day soon Alzheimer’s screening could become part of standard vision exams. Not only would this save money, reducing the need to use more expensive and invasive testing, but an eye exam for Alzheimer’s could be used quickly and easily to track progression of the disease, or monitor a patient’s response to treatment.