(HealthDay News) – The presence of retinopathy in older women is associated with cognitive decline and greater ischemic brain volumes.

Mary Haan, DrPH, MPH, of the University of California in San Francisco, and associates analyzed 511 women aged >65 years enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study and Sight Examination Study to determine the link between retinopathy, measured using fundus photography, cognitive performance over time, and brain lesions. Cognitive performance was measured using the modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MSE), and white matter hyperintensities and lacunar infarcts in the basal ganglia were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers found that, over a 10-year period, the presence of retinopathy correlated with poorer cognitive scores on the 3MSE (mean difference, 1.01; P=0.019). In addition, retinopathy correlated with increased ischemic volumes in the total brain (47% larger; P=0.04) and parietal lobe (68% larger; P=0.01), but there was no association with measures of regional brain atrophy.

“The correspondence we found between retinopathy and cognitive impairment, along with larger ischemic lesion volumes, strengthens existing evidence that retinopathy as a marker of small vessel disease is a risk factor for cerebrovascular disease that may influence cognitive performance and related brain changes,” the authors conclude.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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