Eye problems may signal higher risk of dementia, stroke, early death

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In a new study, researchers found that pictures of the retina may someday provide early warning signs that a person is at an increased risk of stroke and dementia, making it possible to take preventive measures.

The research was conducted by a team at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville in Jacksonville.

Studies have shown that people with severe retinopathy, damage to the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye, are more likely to have a diseased-looking brain on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

In this study, the researchers examined the link of retinopathy with stroke, dementia, and the risk of death in 5,543 adults (average age of 56 years) between 2005 and 2008.

Participants were interviewed and received a retinal scan photo to look for signs of retinopathy.

The team found that compared with participants not diagnosed with retinopathy, those with retinopathy were:

More than twice as likely to have had a stroke; almost 70% more likely to have dementia; and more likely to die within the next 10 years, with each increase in the severity of retinopathy conferring a higher risk of death.

The team says if people have retinopathy, they should work closely with their primary care doctors to alter the vascular risk factors and ask to be screened for cognitive impairment.

They may be referred to a neurologist for evaluation and possibly a brain MRI.

One author of the study is Michelle P. Lin, M.D., M.P.H.

The study was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2021.

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