Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Eye Health Center

Font Size

Eye Disease Linked to Memory Decline

Eye Screening May Identify Increased Risk of Early Mental Issues
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 14, 2012 -- To update the old saying, the eyes may be the windows to the brain.

A new study suggests that people with even minimal eye damage involving the blood vessels of the retina, due to vascular disease, have a higher risk for memory and thinking declines.

Researchers say problems with the blood vessels in the eyes may be an important clue that the blood vessels in the brain are not functioning properly.

If this proves to be the case, eye screening to check for damage to the blood vessels of the retina, or retinopathy, could potentially help identify people at risk for dementia.

Eye Health, Brain Health

Retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes and uncontrolled high blood pressure, and it is a leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States.

Diabetes and high blood pressure have also been linked to a higher risk for memory and thinking declines.

To find out whether retinopathy might serve as an early warning sign of vascular-related mental issues, researchers examined data from a large study known as the Women’s Health Initiative.

The analysis included just over 500 older women who underwent mental testing annually for up to 10 years to evaluate memory and thinking skills.

The women also had a single eye examination around four years after entering the study and brain scans about eight years after they were enrolled.

Overall, 39 women (7.6%) were found to have retinopathy, but their vision was not measurably worse than women without the disease.

Compared to women who did not show evidence of vessel damage to the eyes, these women had lower average scores on the memory and thinking tests. Brain scanning revealed that they also had more evidence of blood vessel damage within the brain.

Retinopathy and Memory Loss

The findings suggest that even very early retinopathy may be an indicator for small vessel disease and a risk factor for vessel-related memory and thinking declines, says researcher Mary Haan, DrPH, MPH, of the University of California, San Francisco.

She tells WebMD that larger studies with longer follow-up times will be needed to confirm the findings.

Stroke neurologist Rebecca F. Gottesman, MD, PhD, says it also remains to be seen if retinopathy screening provides clinically meaningful information about brain health.

Gottesman is an associate professor of neurology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“Retinopathy [testing] may prove to be a useful tool for identifying people at risk for [mental] declines, but we aren’t there yet,” she tells WebMD.

The study appears in the March 14 online issue of the journal Neurology.

Today on WebMD

Woman holding tissue to reddened eye
Learn about causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Simple annoyance or the sign of a problem?
red eyes
Symptoms, triggers, and treatments.
blue eye with contact lens
Tips for wearing and caring.
Understanding Stye
human eye
eye exam timing
vision test
is vision correction surgery for you
high tech contacts
eye drop