Can the Eyes of Diabetics Indicate Early Alzheimer’s Disease?

Diabetes can be a debilitating, challenging disease to live with if left unchecked or unmonitored, but it can also indicate other issues. Those living with type 1 diabetes are likelier to develop complications such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, earlier detection can help us understand the potential cognitive decline to come. As it turns out, it’s all in the eyes – they don’t lie!

Today, let’s explore how this is possible. 

Breakthrough Findings

Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center recently completed an extensive study on the illness, and their findings were surprising: routine eye checks can indicate changes associated with cognitive disorders. As part of the study, the imaging was performed on the eyes of 129 older individuals living with type 1 diabetes for over 50 years. This was carried out in conjunction with memory and motor function tests, the latter consisting of the rearrangement of various objects by the testing subjects. 

Changes in Retina Structure

According to the Joslin study, deep networks of blood vessels within the retina itself offer critical insights into a patient’s cognitive condition. During the memory tests, in particular, the structure of these networks changed, suggesting a connection between both elements. It was a similar story for proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) and psychomotor speed – in other words, the time it takes to perform motor functions such as rearranging objects. 

Comparisons to Other Testing Methods

This is a tremendous discovery that could improve the early identification of cognitive issues in diabetic individuals. A larger-scale test is already being planned by the Joslin Diabetes Center. MRI imaging and postmortem scans will be analyzed in detail to identify more patterns. If this really does become a proven, dependable means of early detection, it will be a much more affordable and streamlined method. 

Benefits of Early Identification

If someone living with type 1 diabetes can be tested for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues when they are younger and asymptomatic, it could minimize the severity of their mental illness in the long run with earlier subsequent treatment. With the continued analysis of the relationship between diabetes and the mechanisms that cause damage to the brain over time, it’s quite possible that this new approach could improve the livelihood of many individuals. 

The Joslin Diabetes Center’s findings are eye-opening – literally – and we’re excited to see what further analysis will uncover. With time, care and patience, it could be possible to identify early-onset Alzheimer’s and other mental health complications far earlier in a patient’s life. 

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