A SIMPLE eye test focusing on the thickness of a patient’s retina can predict a decline in brain power, it has emerged – and it’s available at opticians.
Scientists have said in the tests, people with thin retinas were twice as likely to perform poorly in subtle tests on everyday memory and reasoning – and twice as likely to suffer mental decline within a three year period.
Researchers at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital used UK Biobank data on OCT scans, which measures the thickness of a layer of neurons on the retina.
Professor Paul Foster, a world-leading eye specialist and the lead study author, said: “We now know we need to find people at the earliest stages before the brain is irreparably damaged.
“The hope is that either a drug or lifestyle advice can stop this.”
He added: “The combination of the two studies showing the increased risk I think does put it beyond doubt. There is unquestionably a link between changes in the retina and changes in people’s mental state.”
A retina is a layer at the back of the eyeball that contains cells sensitive to light, which trigger nerve impulses that pass from the optic nerve to the brain, where a visual image is formed.
The UK study looked at 32,000 healthy people aged 40 to 69 who had undergone the eye test, which is available at NHS opticians.
A second paper, published by the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, studied 5,000 people with an average age of 69.
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According to the report, over eight years, 86 people developed dementia, and those with a thin retina were 44 per cent more likely to do so.
But the UCL research could revolutionise treatment of the devastating disease if it’s caught early, as it affects 850,000 Britons, which is expected to increase to one million by 2025.
The research team are working to identify the precise thickness of a retina that is indicates the risk is high enough for patients to be given a pre-dementia diagnosis, according to the paper.
Prof Foster said they need to “find a threshold” to indicate a “very high probability of dementia”, before patients need to modify their lifestyle or take drugs.
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