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Blood vessels predict decline in mental capacity

The research, published recently in Neurology by a team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University, was predicated on the fact that it is difficult to look inside the brain to directly observe physiological changes related to a decline in cognitive abilities.However, as the retina is closely related to brain tissue, the researchers investigated whether changes revealed through scanning the eye could offer clues about processes underway in the brain.To achieve this, scientists observed whether specific changes to the blood supply in more than 12,000 volunteers’ eyes were associated with a decline in their mory and language abilities.The volunteers, who had an average age of 60, took part in three types of cognitive tests that measured mory, verbal fluency and attention, which thselves were repeated three times over the 20-year period. Researchers also captured images of participants’ eyes using a technique to visualise small changes to blood vessels in the retina.Based on these measurents, the participants’ eyes were categorised as either having no signs of disease, displaying mild signs, or showing moderate or severe changes. The scientists then matched the findings from these images and the scores from the cognitive tests. Their results showed that more severe changes in the eye were associated with a greater loss in mory and language skills.“Retinopathy was associated with accelerated rates of 20-year cognitive decline,” study author Professor Jennifer Deal said.“These findings support the exploration of more sensitive measures in the eye such as optical coherence tomography angiography, which may provide surrogate indexes of microvascular lesions relevant to cognitive decline in older adults.”

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