Older adults with the eye disease retinopathy are at increased risk of having a stroke, as well as dementia, a new study suggests.
The study, to be presented at the International Stroke Conference 2021, indicated that compared with participants not diagnosed with retinopathy, those with retinopathy were more than twice as likely to have a stroke. Almost 70 per cent or more were likely to get dementia.
Retinopathy often refers to retinal vascular disease, or damage to the retina caused by abnormal blood flow.
“A retinal photo that shows a magnified look at the back of the eye, including the retina and optic nerve, is cheaper and faster to perform than an MRI, so we’re wondering if it might be a good screening tool to see who could benefit from a referral to a neurologist for a brain MRI,” said researcher Michelle P. Lin from Mayo Clinic Jacksonville in Florida.
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).
For this study, the team examined the association of retinopathy with stroke, dementia and the risk of death in 5,543 adults (average age of 56 years).
Participants during those years were interviewed about many aspects of their medical history and health behaviours, and in addition, they received a retinal scan photo to look for signs of retinopathy.
The odds were calculated after adjusting for risk factors including age, high blood pressure, diabetes and if they smoke.
“If you have retinopathy, work closely with your primary care doctor to alter your vascular risk factors and ask to be screened for cognitive impairment. You may be referred to a neurologist for evaluation and possibly a brain MRI,” said Lin.