Millions of patients with eye problems are 50% more likely to develop dementia
Millions of patients diagnosed with 3 common eye conditions face a greater chance of Alzheimer’s: Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and eye problems from diabetes all boost risk by 50%
- Scientists now accept eye problems are an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s
- More than 550,000 people in the UK and 5.5 million in the US have the disorder
- But as well as being difficult to treat, the incurable disorder is tricky to diagnose
- The latest findings could spot those who face a higher risk much earlier on
Millions of people diagnosed with three common eye conditions may face a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, researchers fear.
Patients battling age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness globally, face 50 per cent higher odds of Alzheimer’s.
Those struck down with either glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy also have a similar risk, a new study suggests.
Scientists now accept eye problems could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
More than 550,000 people in the UK and 5.5 million in the US are estimated to have the memory-robbing disorder.
But as well as being notoriously difficult to treat, the incurable disorder is tricky to diagnose, particularly in the early stages, when it is easier to combat.
Patients battling age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness, face 50 per cent higher odds of Alzheimer’s
The new findings, led by the University of Washington, could spot those who face a higher risk of Alzheimer’s much earlier on.
This would allow doctors to dish out drugs sooner, to reduce symptoms and slow down the worsening progress of the disorder.
The study adds to an array of evidence that dementia could be spotted by delving into the window of the brain, as the eye is sometimes called.
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Researchers analysed data from 3,800 participants, who were all aged 65 or older – when the risk of Alzheimer’s is deemed highest.
They wanted to discover if solid proof exists to link several conditions, including cataracts, to a higher risk of the neurological disorder.
DOES SUGAR INCREASE A PERSON’S RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S?
Adding less than three teaspoons of sugar to your tea every day increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, research suggested in July 2018.
Sweetening food or drinks with just two-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar makes people 54 per cent more likely to develop the condition, a study found.
Indulging in just one can of sugary soda a day increases the risk of dementia by 47 per cent compared to those who only consume such beverages around once every three months, the research adds.
Speaking of the findings, Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Too much sugar is linked to type 2 diabetes and previous research has identified type 2 diabetes as a risk factor for dementia.
‘This study backs up this evidence, suggesting that excess sugar may increase our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and all types of sugar – from fruit juice to lemonade – have the same impact.
‘By cutting down on the fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes, and eating a varied and balanced diet, we will be able to reduce our risk of developing dementia in later life.’
The researchers, from Columbia University, analysed 2,226 people who did not initially have dementia over around seven years.
At the start of the study, the participants completed questionnaires about whether they added sugar to their food or drinks.
Of the participants, 429 developed Alzheimer’s during the study.
And the five-year study revealed those battling age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy do face higher odds.
However, cataracts – a condition that makes eyes cloudy, which is believed to strike 35 per cent of over-65s – was not an Alzheimer’s disease risk factor.
Figures estimate there are 600,000 patients with AMD, 500,000 with glaucoma and 1.5 million with diabetic retinopathy in the UK.
But the rates of the three conditions are significantly higher in the US, with two million AMD patients, 2.7 million with glaucoma and seven million with DR.
Lead author Dr Cecilia Lee remained adamant that patients diagnosed with one of the three eye conditions are not destined to develop dementia.
But she today urged specialist eye doctors to become ‘more aware’ of the risks of Alzheimer’s for those battling the conditions.
Dr Lee said: ‘Doctors seeing patients with these eye conditions might be more careful on checking on possible dementia or memory loss.’
Dr Paul Crane, study co-author, said: ‘This study solidifies that there are mechanistic things we can learn from the brain by looking at the eye.’
It comes after breakthrough research last month found going for an eye test at the opticians could spot those at risk of dementia.
People who have thin retinas perform worse on tests of their memory and are more likely to experience a decline in brain power, it found.
British researchers warned of an ‘unquestionable’ link between changes in the retina and changes in people’s mental state.
Eye doctors today called for further scientific trials that are bigger to understand the links between eye health and dementia further.
The latest findings were published today in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
A team of researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Institute were also involved in the study.
None of the participants had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the beginning of the study – but 792 cases were flagged up by the end.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
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