Glaucoma and Alzheimer’s Risk

There are many warning signs of Alzheimer’s, including age, family history and genetics. But suppose the presence of glaucoma could also influence your risk of this degenerative disease? According to researchers at University of Washington (UW), this might be the case.

Tracking the Mind

For their study, the UW team examined data collected from nearly 4,000 adults. All of these individuals were senior citizens, and were also participants in the Adult Changes in Thought Study, an ongoing research project initiated in 1994. Starting from the beginning of the study, each participant without dementia had their vision and cognitive abilities regularly assessed. If a subject developed dementia, dropped out or died, they were no longer tracked by the study authors.

With all of this information at their fingertips, the UW researchers sought to determine a possible connection between glaucoma and the onset of Alzheimer’s. They concluded that adults stricken by glaucoma did in fact face an elevated threat of Alzheimer’s later in life. In addition, the authors found a similar relationship with regards to age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. These findings held strong even when age, sex, education levels and smoking habits were factored into the equation. In a press release detailing the study, the research team stated that they had “found a 46 percent higher Alzheimer’s disease risk in participants with recent glaucoma compared with those without […]”. However, the also noted that seniors with established glaucoma did not appear to face a greater threat of cognitive decline.

A Path to Better Treatment?

The study received a warm reaction from Leo Semes, a professor emeritus at the University of Alabama- Birmingham School of Optometry. In an interview with the American Optometric Association, Semes stated that “there seems to be a growing body of evidence that these neurodegenerative disorders-whether it’s glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Parkinson’s-might show up very early in the eyes.” Semes believes that the UW study could allow doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s at fairly early stage, thereby possibly improving patient prognoses. “The earlier a diagnosis is made the more likely interventions will be valuable. What they are trying to establish is some common pathways that might make it easier to recognize these conditions before a patient becomes over symptomatic.”

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