Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Font Size

Eye Test Spots Alzheimer's Before Symptoms

Preliminary Research Suggests Eye Test May Aid in Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 18, 2011 (Paris) -- A simple eye test may aid in the early detection of Alzheimer's disease even before memory loss and other symptoms develop, preliminary research suggests.

The experimental test, which looks for changes in the eye that can precede the development of Alzheimer's, has only been evaluated in a small number of people. And even if the early encouraging results hold up, the test "is not perfect" on its own, says study leader Shaun Frost, MSc, a PhD candidate at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Perth, Australia.

But used in conjunction with blood tests that spot changes associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease, "this noninvasive and cost-effective [eye] test holds promise as an early detection tool for the disease," he tells WebMD.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011.

More Than 5 Million Have Alzheimer's

About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

Imaging scans using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging can often detect brain changes indicative of Alzheimer's years before memory and other symptoms of the disorder are evident, but they are costly and impractical for use on a population-wide basis.

Tissues of the retina -- the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye -- are close in position to those of the brain, Frost says. "They're very closely related to brain tissue and much easier to access," he says.

In the pilot study, Frost and colleagues examined retinal photographs from 13 people with Alzheimer's disease, 13 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 110 healthy people taking part in a larger study on aging. Participants also underwent PET scans to measure the amount of Alzheimer's-associated plaque in the brain.

The researchers used the same cameras that eye doctors use to check patients' eyes, fitted with special software to measure the width and other characteristics of blood vessels in the retina.

"The hardware is out there, and the software is likely to be inexpensive," Frost says.

Eye Changes, Brain Plaque, Alzheimer's Linked

Results showed that the widths of certain blood vessels were substantially different in people with Alzheimer's than in the other participants and that the difference correlated with the amount of plaque seen on the scans.

Today on WebMD

Remember your finger
When it’s more than just forgetfulness.
senior man with serious expression
Which kinds are treatable?
senior man
Common symptoms to look for.
mri scan of human brain
Can drinking red wine reverse the disease?
eating blueberries
Colored mri of brain
Close up of elderly couple holding hands
mature woman
Woman comforting ailing mother
Senior woman with serious expression