Retinopathy may indicate a Decline in Cognitive Brain Function

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have found that even mild retinopathy in women above the age of 65 is indicative of cognitive decline and related vascular changes in the brain. Therefore, eye screening for retinopathy can be used for early diagnosis and treatment of early cognitive decline, before the condition progresses to dementia. The study has been published in the latest online issue of the journal Neurology.

For their study, the researchers examined 511 women above the age of 65. The women had simultaneously enrolled for Women's Health Initiative Memory Study and the Sight Examination Study. The researchers analyzed the cognitive performance of the participants, every year for a period of ten years, with the help of modified Mini-Mental State Examination. They examined the participants for retinopathy, using fundus photography, in the fourth year of the study. The participants underwent brain scans to look for white matter hyper-intensities and lacunar infarcts in the basal ganglia, in the eighth year of the study.

Among the participants, 7.6% suffered from retinopathy. These women had poor MSE scores, i.e. they showed a cognitive decline, compared to the other women. It was also observed that women with retinopathy were 47 times more likely to have ischemic lesions in the brain, of which 68% lesions were concentrated in the parietal lobe. The white matter tracks were also thickened. However, the brain size was normal and there were no signs of brain atrophy.

The co-existence of retinopathy and cognitive impairment, along with the presence of ischemic lesions shows that retinopathy can be used as a marker for cerebrovascular diseases which affect cognitive function. However, it is important to remember that retinopathy is not an indicator of diseases associated with brain atrophy, like Alzheimer’s disease.

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Date: 
Monday, March 26, 2012
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