Dementia — it can be an insidious condition. Many people do not recognize the signs. Sometimes the signs can masquerade as regular aging, stress, or other problems. But then things can get much worse, especially with the degenerative forms, like Alzheimer’s. That’s why this latest finding is noteworthy. An international research team has discovered a test that could help diagnose dementia.
Dementia is not actually a disease itself. It’s really the word for a bunch of symptoms caused by various disorders affecting the brain. The major symptom would be major problems with the ability to think and reason. For example, a person with dementia might not be able to solve simple problems, or their language skills might go downhill. The person might also have significant memory loss. Dementia also includes personality and emotional changes.
The patient might have major mood swings, or they might experience hallucinations. To be diagnosed with dementia, a person has to have at least two impaired brain functions. Most of us associate dementia with Alzheimer’s disease. But it’s also the main symptom group for Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and vascular dementia, among others. Dementia can also be brought on by medications, infections, brain tumors, and many other! physical conditions.
Some medical scientists believe that a disease with eye symptoms could be a risk factor for dementia. “Cerebral microvascular disease” is a condition that means that arteries in the brain are damaged or malfunctioning. This can be due to stroke, diabetes, or high blood pressure. So, it makes sense that testing for signs of microvascular disease could help diagnose people with dementia. And a recent study set out to prove it.
The study was quite large. It involved 2,211 people aged between 69 and 97 years old. Each participant underwent “retinal photography.” That’s when a picture is taken of your eye. The researchers then examined the photos for signs of damage to the eye. Since a problem with the artery in the brain can interrupt proper blood flow, it usually shows up as changes in the blood vessels in the eye. The study participants also underwent brain function testing.
The researchers found that people who had damage to their retina scored lower on a test involving digit and symbol recognition. But they did fine on other mental function tests. Participants who had high blood pressure in addition to a damaged retina were more likely to develop full dementia. Anyone who had had a stroke or who had been taking medications associated with dementia risk was not included in the study.
This could mean that problems with blood flow in the brain could be behind dementia in some people, especially if they have high blood pressure. It also means that getting your eyes checked is more important than ever. It could tell you whether or not you’re at risk for a dementia-related illness.