The purpose was to compare resting pupil diameter in darkness and light, and the pupillary darkness and light reflexes between a group of patients with Alzheimer's disease and a group of healthy old people. Nine medication free patients with Alzheimer's disease and nine healthy control subjects, matched for sex and age with the patients, participated. There were six men and three women and the median age was 72 years in both groups. Pupil diameter was monitored with an infrared television pupillometer. Resting pupil diameter was smaller in the Alzheimer's disease group (P = 0.041, in darkness). The amplitude and the maximum dilatation velocity of the darkness reflex were smaller for the Alzheimer's disease group (maximum dilatation velocity P < 0.002). The amplitude and the 75% recovery time of the light reflex response were reduced in the Alzheimer's disease group (P < 0.002 and P = 0.034 respectively). There was no difference in the latency of the reflex response between the two groups. The reduced pupil size and diminished darkness reflex in the Alzheimer's disease group are consistent with a sympathetic deficit in the patients. The reduction in light reflex amplitude and recovery time are likely to be secondary to the grossly diminished pupil size in the patient group. The lack of any change in light reflex latency in the patients with Alzheimer's disease argues against an afferent defect. The pupillary changes in patients with Alzheimer's disease are qualitatively the same as those seen in healthy old people and are consistent with the notion of "accelerated aging" in Alzheimer's disease.
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