Your Eyes May Signal Your Risk for Stroke, Dementia

In the new study, researchers found that people with signs of retinopathy were twice as likely to report a history of stroke, versus those with no evidence of the eye disease. Similarly, they were 70% more likely to report memory problems — a potential indicator of dementia.

Over the next decade, people with the most severe retinopathy faced a two to three times higher risk of dying.

It’s not clear whether retinopathy actually foretells a future stroke or memory issues, said lead researcher Dr. Michelle Lin, an assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

Study participants were asked about stroke history and memory problems at the same time they were evaluated for retinopathy. It’s not clear which conditions came first, Lin said.

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The next step, she added, is to follow patients with retinopathy over time, to see whether the condition predicts higher stroke risk — and whether detecting retinopathy makes a difference in that risk.

Lin will present the findings at the American Stroke Association’s annual meeting, being held virtually March 17-19. Studies reported at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The results are based on more than 5,500 U.S. adults who took part in an ongoing government health study. All underwent retinal scans to look for retinopathy.

Nearly 700 were found to have the eye condition, while 289 had a history of stroke, and about 600 reported memory problems.

On average, people with retinopathy had heightened risks of stroke and memory issues — even after age, diabetes and high blood pressure were taken into account.