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Visual disorders and Alzheimer's disease.


Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease before loss of memory and disintegration of intellectual functioning may be possible based on regular eye examinations, according to a report issued by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Researchers at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia studied Alzheimer's patients between the ages of 53 and 69 and found that several of them had abnormalities in color vision and depth perception, plus an inability to copy line drawings. Awareness of visual problems in these individuals occurred before their loss of memory and intellectual functioning became apparent. Those with early Alzheimer's describe vague visual problems such as difficulty in reading or coping with glare in spite of eye examinations' demonstrating normal visual acuity and eye health.

Alzheimer's disease, a brain disorder affecting approximately 2.5 million Americans, destroys nerve endings in the brain's cortex (outer layer), interrupting the passage of signals between brain cells. When an ophthalmologist suspects damage to the cortex is beginning, a positron emission tomography (PET scan) may be performed. The scan demonstrates a significant loss of metabolism within the visual association cortex of the brain, the area responsible for interpreting visual information in Alzheimer's patients. One of the researchers, Dr. Thomas Bosley, suggests, "Damage to the visual association cortex may explain why patients with Alzheimer's disease have good visual acuity and healthy eyes but still experience other types of visual problems."

As more information and therapeutic regimens are developed to improve or maintain functioning in the Alzheimer sufferer, early diagnosis may help to stop the process before the crippling effect of this disorder takes hold.
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Title Annotation:diagnosis based on regular eye examinations
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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