Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease May Experience Eye Damage


A new study found that brain and cognitive changes in patients with Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to changes in the retina.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

More than three million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. The disease is progressive, and it affects memory and cognition. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and treatments only slow its development.

Experts know that dementia can affect vision, but this new research may be pivotal in understanding how Alzheimer’s disease affects the retina, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Link between Alzheimer’s disease and retinal health

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Hospital examined retina and brain tissue samples from 86 donors with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. They compared those samples with samples from donors with normal brain function and those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team analyzed the patients’ retinas, measuring proteins in retinal and brain tissue and looking for markers of inflammation and functional cell loss. In the retinas of patients with mild cognitive impairment, the team found the following:
  • An excess of amyloid beta 42 protein, which in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease binds together and disrupts brain function
  • A buildup of amyloid beta protein in ganglion cells, which transmit visual input from the retina to the optic nerve
  • Molecules that are responsible for inflammation and cell death
The changes in the retina corresponded with changes in parts of the brain that control memory, navigation and the perception of time.

The team suggested the retina can be seen as “a developmental extension of the brain” because it offers a non-invasive and less expensive way to observe and monitor neurological health.

“These findings may eventually lead to the development of imaging techniques that allow us to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier and more accurately and monitor its progression noninvasively by looking through the eye,” said Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, PhD, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the study.

Schedule a comprehensive eye exam with dilation

May is Healthy Vision Month. The National Eye Institute established this observance in 2003 to stress the importance of preventive vision care and the dangers of ignoring your eye health. 

Taking care of your eyes is equally important as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. To maintain healthy vision, you should have a comprehensive eye exam with dilation every year. Your eye doctor will use eye drops to widen your pupils and check for eye diseases or vision problems. A comprehensive eye exam with dilation can help your ophthalmologist detect chronic conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or age-related macular degeneration. 

Celebrate Healthy Vision Month by making an appointment at one of our eye care centers nationwide. Our team of board-certified ophthalmologists and friendly staff are equipped to meet your vision needs and help you preserve your eyesight for years to come.