Counting falls, looking into eyes may be low-cost Alzheimer's predictors

Early detection and diagnosis is a major emphasis for Alzheimer's disease, and biomarkers play an important role. But while we wait for discoveries to make it to the clinic, there are some less-sophisticated--and less expensive--ways that physicians can detect Alzheimer's before symptoms occur, according to studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Paris. Reuters is at the conference and tells us about a couple of lower-tech Alzheimer's biomarkers being presented.

The first one involves simply observing how often a patient falls. Susan Stark of Washington University in St. Louis studied 125 people who had brain scans and contributed samples of their spinal fluid. Each participant kept a journal of how many times they fell over an 8-month period. The researchers found that people whose brain scans detected presymptomatic Alzheimer's disease were twice as likely to fall as those who had normal scans, Reuters reports. "This is really the first study that tests for falls in the preclinical phases of Alzheimer's disease," Stark says in the article. "It suggests that higher rates of falls can occur very early in the disease process."

A separate study looked at how changes in the retina, in the back of the eye, could be used to detect Alzheimer's. Australian researcher Shaun Frost found the width of certain blood vessels were significantly different in people with early signs of Alzheimer's disease compared with healthy people, Reuters reports.

So, as the science of biomarkers plods along, these low-cost predictors might make some headway in the clinic. "It is much easier for us to image the retina than it is for us to do a brain scan," Frost told the meeting.

- read the Reuters story