A simple eye test would be used to identify the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists believe warning signs for the illness could be detected in the eye and have developed computer software that can analyse high-definition images of its condition.
It is thought that changes in the pattern of ocular veins and arteries could be linked to conditions such as dementia, stroke and heart disease.
Emanuele Trucco, professor of computational vision at the University of Dundee, who is leading the three-year £1.1million project, said: “If you can look into someone’s eyes using an inexpensive machine and discover something which may suggest a risk of developing dementia, then that’s a very interesting proposition.
“There is the promise of early warning in a non-invasive way and we even might be able to use the test to differentiate between different types of dementia.’
The researchers, from Dundee and Edinburgh universities, will compare thousands of images from medical records to establish a link.
Professor Trucco said changes to blood vessels in the retina, for example when they change in width or become “wriggly”, can indicate a huge amount. But while taking measurements by hand is an arduous process the software – known as Vampire – takes them ‘reliably and efficiently’.
Philip Nelson, of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is funding the project, warned of the ‘huge challenge’ the UK faces with a rise in dementia diagnoses.
He added that the project, ‘will improve our abilities to detect and understand dementia.’
With an increase in medical knowledge and diminishing funding to deliver health services, the future will still be very bleak for many of our ageing population.