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Eyes a Window Into Brain Health: Study

THURSDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- People who have mild vascular disease that damages the eyes' retinas are more likely to have vascular disease in the brain that causes thinking and memory problems, new research indicates.

The study included 511 women with an average age of 69 whose thinking and memory skills were tested every year for 10 years. The women's eyes were tested about four years into the study, and they underwent brain scans about eight years into the study.

On average, the 39 women with retina damage (retinopathy) had lower scores on the cognitive tests than those without retinopathy. The eye damage in these women was not serious enough to cause significant symptoms.

The brains of women with retinopathy also had more areas with damaged blood vessels than those without retinopathy.

The findings held true even after the researchers accounted for high blood pressure and diabetes, which can be factors in vascular issues in the eyes and brain, the researchers said.

"Problems with the tiny blood vessels in the eye may be a sign that there are also problems with the blood vessels in the brain that can lead to cognitive problems," study author Mary Haan, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release. "This could be very useful if a simple eye screening could give us an early indication that people might be at risk of problems with their brain health."

Although the study, which appears in the March 14 online issue of Neurology, showed an association between vascular disease in the eyes and memory problems, it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about retinopathy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Neurology, news release, March 14, 2012

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