Early Alzheimer’s detection… with a simple eye exam?

I’m always looking for new, non-invasive ways to test my patients for serious illnesses. And lately, I’ve really hit the jackpot. Yesterday I told you about two new prostate cancer screenings that can significantly reduce the number of invasive follow-ups patients currently undergo.

Today, I want to tell you about two new eye tests that might offer a simple way to screen for early Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Yes… I said eye tests. Pretty cool, right?

Let me explain a little. As I’m sure you know, one of the major distinguishing characteristics of AD is beta amyloid—a protein that builds up to form dangerous “plaques” in the brain. But as it turns out, your brain isn’t the only place you can find beta amyloid.

In fact, one recent study showed that beta amyloid plaques in the brain strongly correlate to beta amyloid deposits in your eyes. Which means retinal beta amyloid could be a red flag for Alzheimer’s as well.

Researchers performed retinal imaging on people with Alzheimer’s and without. Then they compared those images with PET scans of the subjects’ brains. And results showed that every single patient who tested positive for high levels of beta amyloid plaque in the brain also tested positive for retinal plaques.

In other words, this eye test identified Alzheimer’s disease with 100 percent sensitivity and no false negatives. And maybe most importantly, without any radiation.

Unfortunately, this test is still only being used experimentally and costs several thousand dollars per scan. But there’s another test in development that also detects amyloid in the lens of your eye. And it could prove to be just as game-changing.

This other test uses an ointment that you place directly into your eye. You leave it in overnight, and then receive a laser scan the next day. And the test itself couldn’t be simpler. It takes one second to perform and five minutes to get a result. The company that designed it hopes it will eventually be available everywhere.

So, hopefully in the near future, when you get a routine eye exam, you may also be able to be screened for Alzheimer’s disease.

There may not be a cure for this devastating condition. But if you detect it early enough, you can take action to stall the disease’s progress before it’s too late.


Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2014. Abstracts O2-05-05 and O3-13-01. Presented July 13, 2014.

Simple Eye Tests to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease in the Works. Medscape. Jul 16, 2014.