Routine eye imaging can identify changes in the retina that may be associated with cognitive disorders in older people with Type-1 diabetes, researchers say.
These results may open up a relatively easy method for early detection of cognitive decline in this population, providing a better ways to understand, diagnose and ultimately treat the decline, the researchers said.
"Since we knew there were cellular changes in the retina that might reflect changes in the brain, we were interested to see whether imaging techniques that visualize those changes in the retina might be reflective of changes in cognitive functions," said lead author Ward Fickweiler, MD, at Joslin Diabetes Center in the US.
For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the researchers involved 129 participants.
The team drew on eye scans routinely gathered from patients as a part of normal vision care.
One set of scans was based on optical coherence tomography (OCT, a technique employing light to provide cross-sections for the retina). A second set of scans employed OCT angiography (OCTA, an extension of OCT technology that examines blood vessels in the retina).
Both types of scans are non-invasive and widely available in eye clinics in the US and can be performed within minutes.
The researchers found very strong associations between performance on memory tasks and structural changes in deep blood vessel networks in the retina.
"Memory is the main cognitive task that is affected in Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline, so that was exciting," Fickweiler said.