The Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Glaucoma

Glaucoma and Alzheimer’s Disease are two of the most severe age-related conditions affecting millions worldwide.

In recent years, medical researchers have uncovered intriguing connections between them, pointing toward potential common mechanisms of pathogenesis.

A 2020 study published by the National Institutes of Health found that AD and glaucoma share multiple common biochemical and pathological changes. However, while specific overlapping epidemiological and pathological changes link the two diseases, missing links remain and must be studied to further explore the relationship between the two.

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Glaucoma

Before delving into their interconnection, it’s essential to understand what these diseases represent individually.

AD is a progressive neurological disorder primarily affecting older people, leading to gradual loss of memory, cognition, and behavioral changes. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, AD is the most common cause of dementia, representing 60% to 80% of cases.

Glaucoma is an ocular condition characterized by damage to the optic nerve, leading to progressive vision loss. The World Health Organization recognizes glaucoma as one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness globally.

Common Pathological Features

While AD and glaucoma are two seemingly unrelated conditions affecting the brain and eyes, they share some interesting pathological features and mechanisms.

AD and glaucoma exhibit similar degenerative characteristics, specifically in terms of nerve cell damage and death. AD primarily affects neurons in the cortex, while glaucoma targets the optic nerves.

In AD, there is an accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. In contrast, glaucoma is caused by the deformation of the optic nerve head, leading to retinal ganglion cell axon injury due to unknown mechanisms.

Potential Shared Risk Factors

The commonalities extend to risk factors as well. Aging is a well-established risk factor for both conditions. Genetic predispositions, like the presence of the APOE4 gene, have also been associated with an increased risk for both diseases.

Implications and Future Directions

The potential link between Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma has significant implications for both conditions’ diagnosis, treatment, and management. Early detection and intervention are crucial in both diseases and understanding the relationship may lead to improved strategies for prevention and treatment.

For example, since the retina is in many ways a window to the brain, by discovering that glaucoma and Alzheimer’s share common mechanisms, an ophthalmologic examination could potentially provide an early detection method for Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, unraveling common pathological pathways could lead to developing treatments targeting both conditions.

Understanding the complex relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma is a vast and emerging field. While there are intriguing parallels and potential overlaps between the two conditions, they are distinct diseases with different primary causes and clinical manifestations.

Researchers continue studying possible connections to understand these disorders’ pathophysiology better and identify novel therapeutic targets.

Help Us Find a Cure

There is currently no cure for glaucoma. However, regular examinations performed by an eye doctor are critical because the earlier glaucoma is detected, the more effectively it can be treated. In most cases, glaucoma treatments can minimize or prevent vision loss and blindness.

The diligent work of researchers continues to lead to a better understanding of glaucoma every day. As a result, there’s great hope for new and improved treatments, including superior drug delivery methods, laser treatments, and less invasive surgical techniques. You can help make that happen!

Every contribution helps bring us closer to finding a cure for glaucoma. Whether you donate cash or stock, create a fundraising event, or even donate a vehicle or boat, your donation will give hope to those living with glaucoma and accelerate our research.


This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD. Posted on August 11, 2023.

Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD

Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD

Derek Welsbie, MD, PhD is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the Shiley Eye Institute, University of California, San Diego and a principal investigator in the Catalyst for a Cure Vision Restoration Initiative.