YOUR HEALTH: Can the eyes detect Alzheimer’s?

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SEATTLE, Washington – Researchers at the University of Washington and Kaiser Permanente-Washington tracked more than 3,000 people for nearly 30 years in a program called "Adult Changes in Thought", or ACT.

They discovered that people who developed one or more of three eye conditions had a greater chance of developing Alzheimer's.

86-year old Lamartine McDowell has glaucoma and macular degeneration.   Despite that, she is excited to learn about researchers finding a connection between age-related eye conditions and Alzheimer's.

"I think it's a good idea. The more you can find out, the better!"

"We thought that by looking at conditions that happen in the aging eye, we might be able to learn what else is happening to the aging brain, specifically, Alzheimer's disease," explained University of Washington Lead Researcher Dr. Cecelia Lee

Researchers found people who developed glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or macular degeneration had a 40% to 50% higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Dr. Lee says that this discovery may lead to a new paradigm for earlier detection of Alzheimer's in the future.

"By noticing what's happening in the eye," said D r. Lee, "we'll be able to predict who develops Alzheimer's disease and potentially develop treatments that can target these patients."

Dr. Eric Larson has worked with Alzheimer's patients for 40 years and says it's critical to address the disease now.

By 2050 more than 13-million Americans could have Alzheimer's.

PREDICTORS:   There are some clinical predictors of Alzheimer's that can not be controlled, such as age, genetics, and history of previous heart attack.   At age 60 approximately one percent of that population will have Alzheimer's.  This doubles approximately every three to five years until one hits 75 years old, then it triples.   There are at least 12 clinical predictors that we can control.   There are those that are obvious such as obesity (BMI over 30), insulin resistant diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stress.   An assessment of your own likelihood of these risk factors and others can predict the possibility of developing Alzheimer`s, whether you are genetically predisposed or not.   Obesity in women may give a 300 percent increase in the likelihood of Alzheimer's, meaning if at 60 years of age, you have a one percent chance of Alzheimer's, this may increase your risk to three percent.   Men show a 30 percent increase in Alzheimer's with a Body Mass Index over 30, or waist size of 40 or more.

"It's a very, very common condition, and unless we find ways to prevent it, delay it, or effectively treat it, we're going to have a pandemic," predicted Dr. Larson, Vice President for Research and Healthcare Innovation at Kaiser Permanente-Washington.

He hopes their discovery will broaden how researchers look at solving the mystery of Alzheimer's.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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