A simple eye test may one day be able to predict – and help doctors prevent – dementia, a new study suggests.
Scientists at the University of California-San Francisco have found women 65 or older who have retinopathy -- a disease of blood vessels in the retina -- are prone to have mental declines related to age-related changes in the brain.
The finding, reported in the journal Neurology, suggests the day may not be far away when doctors could conduct a simple eye screening to flag the condition – allowing for early diagnosis and drug treatment that could reduce the progression of dementia.
Because retinopathy is usually caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, a diagnosis could also help doctors treat a patient in early stages of these diseases, reducing the risk of serious complications that sometimes come later.
"Lots of people who are pre-diabetic or pre-hypertensive develop retinopathy," said lead researcher Mary Haan. "Early intervention might reduce the progression to full onset diabetes or hypertension."
The study examined the health records of more than 500 older women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study and the Site Examination study – two research projects that were outgrowths of the national Women's Health Initiative Clinical Trial of Hormone Therapy.
For 10 years, researchers conducted annual tests of the women’s mental abilities and short-term memory. The women also exams to assess eye health and brain scans.
Researchers reported 39 of the women were diagnosed with retinopathy and they scored worse on the mental and memory tests than the others.
The women with retinopathy also had more damage to the blood vessels of the brain.