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Researchers use eye-tracking device to detect Alzheimer's

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ATLANTA -

Researchers in Atlanta may have found a new way to detect the first signs of Alzheimer's disease years before a person develops symptoms. They're using a device that tracks eye movement, and it's a simple and painless test.

Alzheimer's disease progressively damages the brain over time. That damage often begins up to 20 years before a person is diagnosed. So the challenge is to find a way to detect the disease earlier and researchers are trying to do that by tracking your eye movement.

Researchers say eye-tracking technology gives them a window into the brain.
      
Dr. Stuart Zola, Director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, says eye-tracking is promising because it gives researchers a way to differentiate between someone with early-stage memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment, and someone with normal brain function.

"But more importantly, it allows us to say about three years before people have symptoms whether or not they are on a trajectory for Alzheimer's disease," said Zola.

Volunteers sit in front of a screen as images flash before their eyes. People with healthy brain function usually have no trouble staying focused on the changing images. But, volunteers with memory problems have a slight delay in their response to new images, maybe because they're not remembering the previous one.
     
Zola says the hope is to speed up the diagnosis of MCI by a few years.
    
"That provides an extraordinary, extraordinary ability now because it means that people will have time to prepare for that eventuality," said Zola

That means time to get treatment, and slow the progressive disease down.
       
Eye-tracking is still experimental, but Dr. Zola predicts that one day soon, you may able to take a similar test using your laptop, and send the results to your doctor to interpret.

If you're thinking "I've seen this eye tracking" before," you're right. Researchers at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta are also studying eye-tracking. They're using it to try to detect the first signs of autism in babies and toddlers.
     
Zola says if they can fine tune the technology, they may be able to spot Alzheimer's disease five or 10 years earlier.

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