A new study has found a surprisingly straightforward way to spot the first signs of frontotemporal dementia (Pick’s disease). So can your eyes really reveal what’s going on in your brain?
News that scientists may have discovered a new way to detect frontotemporal dementia will be welcomed by many. After all, FTD is one of the main causes of dementia in younger people and, since it doesn’t cause memory problems at first, it can be one of the most difficult types of dementia to diagnose.
Research by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that the outer retinas of people with frontotemporal dementia were around 10 per cent thinner than usual. This could indicate that a thinning retina is a sign of frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick’s Disease.
The link between the eyes and the brain is nothing new. The retina (the part of the eye that’s sensitive to light) and the brain are strongly connected parts of the same system. Changes in the retina are therefore likely to reflect changes in the brain. Nor is this the first time that eye tests have been used as a window to the brain. Previous studies have shown that eye damage can also be linked with Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies.
‘Our findings suggest that specific brain pathologies may be mirrored by specific retinal abnormalities,’ explains lead scientist Dr Benjamin Kim.
But it could be some time before your local optician can offer a test for dementia. Although the scientific community agrees that research in this area is ‘interesting’ (in fact, two large UK studies are currently underway) research still remains at a very early stage.
How dementia can affect eye sight (and what you can do about it)
Dementia often cause visual challenges, as the problems within the brain that cause memory loss can also affect vision. This impacts on everything. For example, people with dementia sometimes find it difficult to see food on a plate (particularly if the food is the same colour as the plate). Patterned carpets can become tripping hazards as the patterns can look like objects or obstacles. Shiny floors can appear wet, and dark floor surfaces can look like holes.
But there are ways you can help. Brightly coloured crockery, plain carpets and bold red toilet seats can all make life a bit easier. Go here for more information.