Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia and is characterized by short-term memory loss in the beginning stages. With more advanced states, long-term memory is affected along with becoming irritable and even aggressive. Confusion is also common in late stage Alzheimer's disease. It is devastating to the individual as well as the family. In the past, there was no way to detect the very early stages of Alzheimer even before symptoms occurred.

A recent breakthrough was reported by researchers in London that may change that. They understood that the nerve layers in the back of the eye, called the retina, is a direct extension of the brain. With this understanding, they proposed this idea: If the retina can reflect the status of the brain, perhaps it’s possible to measure the retina to gain insights into diseases of the brain like Alzheimer's.

The British researchers developed a non-invasive technique (they showed it in an animal study) that it is possible to detect nerve damage in the retina that correlated with Alzheimer's disease. The technique works by applying a chemical that binds to the diseased nerve fibers. A special light is shined in the eyes and the diseased nerve cells in the retina light up. A photograph is taken and the number of spots that light up are counted. This number of spots is what correlates to Alzheimer's disease.

While human studies with this technique have yet to begin, it is a promising technology. Detecting Alzheimer's disease in the very early stages before the individual has experienced any memory loss may open the door for early intervention and treatment that could prevent or delay more advanced disease.

Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD is a world-renowned ophthalmologist, nationally and internationally admired for his expertise in LASIK and other refractive procedures. Dr. Boxer Wachler was awarded the industry coveted Apex Plus Award for excellence in performing over 1,000 laser vision procedures in a year.  He has been recognized by his peers as one of the world’s best eye surgeons and he received the Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.