Eyes window into brain health: study
A new U.S. study suggests that screening for retinopathy, a disease of blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, could serve as a marker for brain health, after researchers found that women aged 65 and over with even a mild form of the disease were more likely to have cognitive decline and related vascular changes in the brain, the Medical News Today reported.
For the study, lead author Dr Mary Haan, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues, used data from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study and the Site Examination study, two sub-investigations of the Women's Health Initiative Clinical Trial of Hormone Therapy.
The findings, which they report in the March 14 online issue of Neurology, suggest that a simple eye test could look for early signs of retinopathy, and serve as a marker for cognitive changes linked to vascular disease. This would allow for earlier diagnosis and treatments that potentially reduce the progression of cognitive impairment to dementia.
Retinopathy usually results from Type II diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension). So an early diagnosis of this eye disease could indicate early stages of these two conditions, allowing for timely changes in lifestyle or drug interventions, when they might have the most impact.
Haan told the press:
"Lots of people who are pre-diabetic or pre-hypertensive develop retinopathy."
"Early intervention might reduce the progression to full onset diabetes or hypertension," she added.
For their study, the researchers analyzed data on 511 women with an average age of 69 years at the start of a 10-year follow up during which the women underwent an annual cognition assessment that tested their short-term memory and thinking ability. One test, for example, asked them to listen to several words, and then recall them after five minutes.
They also had had an eye test in the fourth year of follow-up, and a brain scan in the eighth year.
The results showed that during the follow-up, 39 (7.6%) of the participants developed retinopathy, and on average, their scores on the cognition tests were worse than the women who did not develop the eye disease.