Eye And Brain Health Linked: Retinopathy Associated With Memory, Thinking Problems

We know that the health of different parts of our bodies are all linked -- for example, mouth health is associated with the health of our hearts. Now, a small new study shows that eye health may be an indicator of brain health.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that people with retinopathy -- which is a condition where the retina of the eye is damaged as a result of vascular disease -- are also at an increased risk for thinking and memory problems. That's because the vascular disease that causes the retina damage may also be affecting the brain.

"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 researcher Mary Haan, DrPH, MPH, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement. "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 and functioning."

Researchers tested the memory and thinking skills of 511 women (over age 69) for up to 10 years. They also tested their eye health four years into the study, and scanned their brains eight years into the study.

By the end of the study, 39 women had retinopathy -- these women, on a whole, scored lower on the cognitive tests compared with the women without retinopathy.

The women with retinopathy also had 47 percent larger volumes of vascular damage in the brain, compared with the women without the eye condition.

Researchers noted that the women in the study with retinopathy didn't necessarily have worse vision than the women without it -- in fact, women both with and without it scored similarly on visual acuity tests.

There are a number of other health conditions that your eyes could be warning you about. For some of them, check out this slideshow:

What your Eyes Reveal About Your Health