SEATTLE – 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 disease.

“I think it’s a good idea. The more you can find out, the better,” said McDowell, 86.

“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,” said Dr. Cecilia Lee, lead researcher at the University of Washington.

Researchers found people who developed glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or macular degeneration had a 40- to 50-percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Lee said the discovery may lead to a new paradigm for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s in the future.

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

Dr. Eric B. Larson, the vice president for research and healthcare innovation at Kaiser Permanente Washington, has worked with Alzheimer’s patients for 40 years and said it’s critical to address the disease now. By 2050, more than 13 million Americans could have Alzheimer’s.

“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,” Larson said.

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

To check that the link between three eye conditions and Alzheimer’s was not just from age, researchers looked at cataracts. Cataracts were not a predictor of Alzheimer’s risk. Next, the team will try to figure out the exact connection between the eye conditions and Alzheimer’s.



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