Opticians could offer early warning tests for dementia, studies suggest

The results presented at the conference are the latest culled from follow-up research in the long-term Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, which sought to find the most effective of three types of cognitive intervention, including a hard video game.


Two teams of scientists in the United Kingdom and Canada have revealed a new way to identify early warning signs of the disease, saying the back of your eye is a “window” to your brain and it displays signs of change at the same time as the change is taking place deep within your brain circuits.

Three quarters of the volunteers carried out the brain training, while one quarter had no contact and served as a control group.

The ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) trial recruited more than 2,800 people aged 65 to 94 who carried out one of three cognitive interventions – classroom-based training focused on memory and executive reasoning, and a commercially-available computer programme – called Double Decision – created to boost speed of processing. That proportion was reduced to 11.4% in the arm undergoing memory training and 11.7% in the executive reasoning group.

At follow-up, 67 percent of the participants had signs of memory decline.

Four years later, 50 participants (12.6 percent) had developed dementia, and almost 20 percent had signs of cognitive decline.

One of the groups got no training at all. The game exercises an individual’s ability to detect, remember and respond to cues that appear and disappear quickly in varying locations on a computer screen.

“We believe this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial”, said Jerri Edwards, first author of the study and an associate professor at the University of South Florida, in the press release. “It can be considered a brain exercise”. Previous claims of brain training programs have included the ability to increase IQ, enhancing education, and improving daily functioning.

It’s not clear why speed mental processing training works, or the exact changes it causes to the brain.

The research team from the University College of London Institute of Ophthalmology, Topcon Advanced Biomedical Imaging Laboratory in Oakland, New Jersey, and the University of Oxford, found that individuals who showed an abnormal cognitive test had a thinner RNFL than those who had normal cognitive tests. This is a crucial finding since many scientists have been skeptical of the brain training industry.

They divided the participants into four different groups, including a control group, wherein no brain training was offered.


Two studies looked at changes in sense of smell and compared it to two established characteristics of dementia – the amount of amyloid protein in the brain and the size of a brain area that is important for memory.

Elderley woman using a laptop computer