Eye health is related to brain health

March 14, 2012

People with mild vascular disease that causes damage to the retina in the eye are more likely to have problems with thinking and memory skills because they may also have vascular disease in the brain, according to a study published in the March 14, 2012, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Women 65 or older who have even mild retinopathy, a disease of blood vessels in the retina, are more likely to have cognitive decline and related vascular changes in the brain, according to a multi-institutional study led by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The findings suggest that a relatively simple eye screening could serve as a marker for cognitive changes related to vascular disease, allowing for early diagnosis and treatment, potentially reducing the progression of cognitive impairment to dementia.

As retinopathy usually is caused by Type II diabetes or hypertension, a diagnosis could indicate early stages of these diseases, before they are clinically detectable. Early diagnosis could allow for lifestyle or drug interventions when they might be most effective.

“Lots of people who are pre-diabetic or pre-hypertensive develop retinopathy,” said the lead author of the study, Mary Haan, DrPH, MPH, UCSF professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. “Early intervention might reduce the progression to full onset diabetes or hypertension.”

The results, reported in the March 14, 2012, online issue of Neurology, were based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study and the Site Examination study, two ancillary studies of the Women’s Health Initiative Clinical Trial of Hormone Therapy.

In the study, the team followed 511 women with an average starting age of 69, for 10 years. Each year, the women took a cognition test focused on short-term memory and thinking processes. In the fourth year, they received an exam to assess eye health. In the eighth year, they received a brain scan.

Of the full group of women, 39 women, or 7.6 percent, were diagnosed with retinopathy. On average, these women scored worse on the cognition test than the other women. They had more difficulty, for instance, recalling a list of several words five minutes after hearing them.

The women with retinopathy also had more damage to the blood vessels of the brain. They had 47 percent more ischemic lesions, or holes, in the vasculature overall and 68 percent more lesions in the parietal lobe. The lesions, associated with vascular disease and sometimes stroke, are believed to be caused by high blood pressure. They also had more thickening of the white matter tracks that transmit signals in the brain, which also appear to be caused by high blood pressure.

Notably, the women did not have more brain atrophy, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This result indicates that retinopathy is a marker of neurovascular disease rather than Alzheimer’s disease, according to Haan.

Co-author Mark A. Espeland, PhD, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine conducted the analysis of the data. The senior author of the study is Kristine Yaffe, MD, UCSF professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology and biostatistics.

More information: The paper: www.neurology.org/content/earl … e31824d9655.abstract
Accompanying editorial: www.neurology.org/content/earl … 31824d9655/suppl/DC1

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New map may lead to drug development for complex brain disorders, researcher says

July 24, 2017
Just as parents are not the root of all their children's problems, a single gene mutation can't be blamed for complex brain disorders like autism, according to a Keck School of Medicine of USC neuroscientist.

Bird songs provide insight into how developing brain forms memories

July 24, 2017
Researchers at the University of Chicago have demonstrated, for the first time, that a key protein complex in the brain is linked to the ability of young animals to learn behavioral patterns from adults.

Working around spinal injuries: Rehabilitation, drug treatment lets rats recover some involuntary movement

July 24, 2017
A new study in rats shows that changes in the brain after spinal cord injury are necessary to restore at least some function to lower limbs. The work was published recently in the journal eLife.

Scientists capture first image of major brain receptor in action

July 24, 2017
Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers have captured the first three-dimensional snapshots of the AMPA-subtype glutamate receptor in action. The receptor, which regulates most electrical signaling in the brain, ...

Research identifies new brain death pathway in Alzheimer's disease

July 24, 2017
Alzheimer's disease tragically ravages the brains, memories and ultimately, personalities of its victims. Now affecting 5 million Americans, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and a cure ...

Study suggests link between autism, pain sensitivity

July 24, 2017
New research by a UT Dallas neuroscientist has established a link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and pain sensitivity. 

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.