- Associated Press - Sunday, July 17, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Falls in an older person could mean more than poor balance or clumsiness. New research suggests they might be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

People who seemed to have healthy minds but who were discovered to have hidden plaques clogging their brains were five times more likely to fall during a six-month study than others without these brain deposits. The deposits are a sign of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis say their work suggests that older people who fall for no apparent reason should be checked for signs of dementia.

The study was discussed Sunday at an Alzheimer’s conference in Paris.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

PARIS (AP) _ Australian scientists are reporting encouraging early results from an eye test they hope will create a simple way to detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

The test is experimental and needs more study. But doctors know that Alzheimer’s causes changes in the eyes, not just the brain. Other researchers in the United States also are working on an eye test for the disease.

“It’s a small study” but “suggestive and encouraging,” one of the American researchers, Dr. Lee Goldstein of Boston University, said of the Australian work. “My hat’s off to them for looking outside the brain for other areas where we might see other evidence of this disease.”

Shaun Frost of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, discussed the test Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in France.

More than 5.4 million Americans and 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. Brain scans can find evidence of it a decade or more before it causes memory and thinking problems but they’re too expensive and impractical for routine use. Doctors and families need easier ways to tell who is developing the disease, so a simple eye test could be a big help.

It involves photographing blood vessels in the retina, the nerve layer lining the back of the eyes. Drops are used to dilate a patient’s eyes, just as they are in a routine exam.

Researchers compared retinal photos of 110 healthy people, 13 with Alzheimer’s and 13 with mild cognitive impairment, or “pre-Alzheimer’s,” who were taking part in a larger study on aging. The widths of certain blood vessels were different in those with Alzheimer’s than in the others and the amount of difference matched the amount of plaque seen on brain scans.

Earlier work by Goldstein showed that amyloid, the protein that makes up Alzheimer’s brain plaque, can be measured in the lens of the eyes of some people with the disease, particularly Down syndrome patients who often are prone to it.

A company he holds stock in, Neuroptix, is testing a laser eye scanner to measure amyloid in the eyes.

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