There have been a number of different methods to diagnose Alzheimer’s suggested in the past several months. Photo therapy, blood sugar levels, and even sniffing peanut butter have all been floated as potential dementia detection tools.

A new idea detailed at the Society for Neuroscience conference last week, though, provides one of the simplest and most accessible methods of detecting Alzheimer’s disease.

Retinal Thinning

Researchers at Georgetown University found that mice with Alzheimer’s experienced a loss of thickness of the retina.

The study has not yet been published, but scientists discussed their findings at the recent conference in San Diego. In the mice with Alzheimer’s, two different areas of the retina were noticeably thinner than mice without the disease. The retinal ganglion cell layer was about half the thickness and the inner nuclear layer decreased in size by one-third.

This physical transformation could be used to detect the disease in humans, as well, if the thinning of the retina occurs in a similar manner. Because the retina is a direct extension of the brain, this change could be used to various neurodegenerative diseases. Both Alzheimer’s and glaucoma manifest through a loss of brain cells and could theoretically be diagnosed and treated much the same.

Future Implications alzheimer's diagnosis

Scott Turner, director of the memory disorders program at Georgetown University Medical Center, told BBC that scientists believe retinal thinning happens long before symptoms of dementia appear. This type of diagnosis, then, could potentially help prevent the early onset of the disease and slow the progression of any symptoms.

Turner said that the study “suggests a new path forward in understanding the disease process in humans and could lead to new ways to diagnose or predict Alzheimer’s that could be as simple as looking into the eyes.”

He went on to emphasize that human studies are still needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn about the potential to effectively diagnose the disease. If successful, this could pave the way for an easy and affordable method of diagnosing Alzheimer’s in a time when most tests are quite pricey and not nearly as accessible as an eye exam.

Increase in Research

As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s rapidly increases, this type of research is taking hold in the scientific community. Although an actual cure may be out of reach at this point in time, early detection and prevention methods can have a hugely positive impact on the outcome.

Studies estimate that the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s and dementia is set to triple in the next few decades, leaving long term care facilities and families scrambling for resources and assistance. Following current research and making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of developing the disease and protect your brain from memory loss.

Read more about the increasing incidence of dementia in the United States or find out more about dementia and long term care support and services for the disease.