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For Predicting Alzheimer’s, the Eyes May Have It

Poor Eyesight in Later Years May Be Precursor to Alzheimer’s Development

Ignoring your eye problems may be one of the worst things you can do for your brain, never mind your eyes.

The problem with Alzheimer’s disease is that once it’s identified, the damage has already been done.  Treatments exist that slow its debilitating effects, but precious little can be done to reverse them.

As such, much of Alzheimer’s research is devoted to identifying Alzheimer’s disease before the symptoms are made manifest.  Well, researchers think they may—emphasis on may—have found a symptom that’s predictive of Alzheimer’s development.

According to a study published in the online edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology, a striking number of people who go on to develop Alzheimer’s have poor eyesight years ahead of diagnosis.  And people particularly vulnerable to its onset are those that don’t have it treated.

Researchers discovered this link after looking at the results of a 1992 health study involving 625 people approaching their senior citizen years.  Among other findings, the researchers found that 27 percent of them developed Alzheimer’s over an eight and a half year period.

Now, 27 percent is a pretty high figure all by itself, but what really took the researchers by surprise was how high the correlation was between a person’s eye health and Alzheimer’s development.

For example, 25 percent of people who said their vision was “fair” or “poor” at the start of the study eventually developed Alzheimer’s, while only 10 percent of the 168 with Alzheimer’s had “excellent” eyesight throughout.

But where things really got interesting was when researchers looked at whether those with poor eyesight ever got their eyes checked out by an opthamologist.  Of course, many did, but those that didn’t were nine times (!!) more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who sought and received treatment.

Researchers aren’t sure what it is about eyesight that portends Alzheimer’s development, but Dr. Mary A.M. Rogers, the study’s lead researcher, believes it may have something to do with the fact that untreated eyesight is a crippling condition in and of itself.  In other words, if you can’t see, you’re probably not going to be doing the things that keep your mind active, like travelling, reading, exercising.

Research has shown that an active brain can help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Now, as the University of Michigan researchers themselves say, this study does not definitively link eyesight trouble to Alzheimer’s development.  After all, a fairly high percentage (11 percent) of the participants had poor eyesight and maintained normal brain function throughout.  But the correlation is certainly intriguing and gives researchers something to further dissect regarding the physiological signs that point to Alzheimer’s development.

Further research will settle the findings, but this study points to the importance of eye health. It goes without saying that you should schedule annual visits with your opthamologist, but there are things you can take to maintain your eye health.

There are many different eye ailments (e.g., eye strain, astigmatisms, blurred vision, bloodshot eyes, etc.), but for the general maintenance of healthy eyes, take N-acetylcysteine, as it helps protect the eyes’ lenses; a multivitamin with selenium (selenium helps the body absorb antioxidants that fight eye-damaging free radicals); and vitamin A.  Vitamin A helps the eyes’ rods and cones adjust to contrasting conditions (i.e., transitioning from a light room to a dark room) and is fuel for the retina.

Sources:
reuters.com
newsmaxhealth.com
Balch, Phyllis A.  “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.”  4th Edition. 2006.  Avery:  New York

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