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Updated: February 2, 2014 18:47 IST

Your eyes speak volumes…

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EVEN A SMILE Lights up your eyes
EVEN A SMILE Lights up your eyes

Even a cursory screening could reveal a great deal about your age, dietary habits, state of mind and general health, says Geeta Padmanabhan

Your companion’s outfit is easy on the eye, you are in the eye of a storm, you saw trouble coming from the corner of your eye, you got a black eye, and if you are in the public eye, don’t jump into anything with your eyes closed! Get it? We use a hundred-and-fifty phrases built around the “eye”, without batting an eyelid, and with a gleam in the eye.

But the eye is a lot more than a word in catchy phrases, say doctors. It is a health indicator for age, dietary habits, state of the mind. A group of researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and the University of Hong Kong believes it may be possible to diagnose Alzheimer’s simply by screening someone’s eyes for changes with time.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

At the Neuroscience 2013 conference, scientists explained how the thickness of a particular layer of retinal cells may serve as an indication of Alzheimer’s progression. Dr. Scott Turner, Director, Memory Disorder Program, GUMC, told that his team hoped to incorporate this as a new bio-marker for medicine trials and for screening and prognosis. The biomarkers used today include the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain checked through PET (positron emission tomography) and CT (computed tomography) scans and changes in protein levels of the cerebrospinal fluid — the liquid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord.

But brain-imaging scans are expensive, and collecting samples of the cerebrospinal fluid is a deeply invasive procedure. Looking for a simpler bio-marker, the scientists took to analysing the relationship between eyes and dementia. Why? Because there is an established association between glaucoma and Alzheimer’s, says the report. And the retinas have nerve cells directly connected to the brain via the optic nerve. One of the two retina cell-layers responsible for transmitting visual information through the optic nerve — the inner nuclear layer — had not been studied in relation to dementia. When they did, researchers found a significant loss in the thickness of the layers in mice with Alzheimer’s. They could now look into the loss of retinal thickness (and neurons) in human Alzheimer’s patients, measure it using optical coherence tomography (OCT), and use the information for screening, diagnosis, prognosis, testing new medicines.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetologists will tell you of the close connection between diabetes and eyes. “Regular eye check-up is mandatory for people with diabetes,” says Prof. A. Ramachandran, President, India Diabetes Research Foundation. “Diabetic retinopathy affecting the retina remains symptomless and will be missed if it is not tested for. Many patients reach eye doctors late in the disease process.” Since diabetic retinopathy is specific to diabetes, eye doctors become the first point of contact for diagnosis of diabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed when you check your eyes for a complication.

“Eyes are the window to your emotions,” says counsellor Brinda Jayaraman, who watches her patients’ eyes keenly as they respond to her questions. “Neuro-linguistic programming has established connections between eye movements and the state of the mind.” Happiness is clearly visible in the eye — as are paranoia, fear — when you watch the movement of eyeballs. Eyelids bat with nervousness. “I noticed that in a schoolboy when I asked him, ‘Did you copy in the exam?’”

To “love-in-the-eye” and the “come-hither look” she adds anger, restlessness, nervousness and guilt for what the eyes can reveal. When people are guilty, they turn their gaze downward to avoid eye contact, she says. “Rolling eyeballs left and above before answering a question means they are recalling a past event visually. Moving it laterally indicates auditory recall.” She remembers counselling a guy who tormented his family with his extreme miserliness. “He looked to his left when he said ‘My father always advised me to save for a rainy day’ as if he could hear his father speaking to him.” When you ask people for an explanation that they are not ready for, they look towards the right-corner top, to construct it visually. A guy looked downward to get in touch with his feelings regarding the loss of his father. Unwavering eye contact means a clear statement, she says. Infants look at us to make the first contact, she points out. Smile and blabber come later. So bend down or pick up infants to eye-level to coddle them. Watch out! Let your physician know if the kid isn’t making eye contact.

Keywords: eyeshealth

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