Examining the blood vessels in the retina of the eye may give a clue to the mental status of elderly people and their risk of developing dementia, researchers report.
The presence of retinal damage, or retinopathy, "is a marker of early damage to the blood vessels in the brain, and is a harbinger of future stroke risk," senior investigator Dr Tien Yin Wong of the University of Melbourne Centre for Eye Research, Australia, told Reuters Health.
In order to see if retinopathy might also be linked to cognitive function and dementia, Wong and colleagues studied retinal photographs of 2211 people aged 69 to 97 years. More than half of them had hypertension, i.e., high blood pressure.
Retinopathy tied to cognition
After adjusting for factors such as age, diabetes, and smoking status, subjects with retinopathy had lower scores on a standard test of cognitive status than those without (39 versus 41), the team reports in the medical journal Stroke.
In subjects with high blood pressure, retinopathy doubled the likelihood of having dementia. No such relationship was seen in those without high blood pressure.
The investigators concluded that there is a "modest cross-sectional association between retinopathy signs and poorer cognitive function and, in persons with hypertension, with dementia."
SOURCE: Stroke, July 2007. – (ReutersHealth)