Research from the US has suggested that damage seen on the retina of the eye may help to indicate declining brain function.
The research involved 511 women over the age of 64 for a period of ten years. Of these patients, 39 were diagnosed with retinopathy. Brain scans indicated more areas of damaged brain tissue in people with the condition and they also performed worse in tests of brain function, such as memory and abstract reasoning tests.
Retinopathy can lead to blindness and is common in patients who suffer from Type 2 Diabetes.
The researchers believe that issues with blood supply that can cause the disease also cause damage to the brain.
The researchers suggest that identifying damage to the tiny blood vessels in the eye during an eye test could give a valuable early indication of brain health problems.
However, they also indicate that only a small number of patients were involved in the study. An even smaller number were diagnosed with retinopathy and whilst some had exhibited signs of brain decline, which can be an early sign of dementia none had developed the condition. They added that more research was needed.
A spokesperson for Alzheimer’s Research UK, indicated that the research adds to the evidence linking vascular health to cognitive decline and highlights the importance of looking after our hearts. They added: “Accurate early detection of the cognitive decline that can be associated with dementia could unlock our ability to treat it. This small study offers clues for another possible route doctors could consider when monitoring for the signs of cognitive decline.”