04/13/2010 - Articles

Diabetic retinopathy linked to cognitive problems

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes which can lead to loss of vision and, indeed, it is the leading cause of blindness in the working-age population in the UK. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh now reveal that diabetic retinopathy is linked to cognitive decline. They looked at a group of over 1,000 people aged between 60 and 75 years, giving them a range of tests of memory and concentration to assess their level of brain function. The tests included memory for faces, recall of stories, vocabulary and the ability to re-organize a series of letters. Those who had diabetic retinopathy had worse scores on the tests, on average, and worse overall cognitive ability. The greater the degree of diabetic retinopathy, the worse the participant’s cognitive functioning was.

It may be that diabetic retinopathy is an indicator of brain damage called cerebral microvascular disease which would impair cognitive functioning. Or it could be that having poorer cognitive ability in the first place makes diabetes management more difficult and therefore diabetic retinopathy becomes more likely. The findings come from the Edinburgh Type 2 Diabetes Study and more follow up data is expected which may clarify the relationship between diabetic retinopathy and cognitive function. Other research has linked type 2 diabetes with a worsening of age-related cognitive decline – in other words, its presence tends to accelerate the aging process. The new link with diabetic retinopathy is intriguing and should act as a wake up call to those with diabetes. Don’t forget to look after your eyes! Regular eye exams are a must. It may be that future research could target both diabetic retinopathy and cognitive decline with new therapies.



Ding J et al Diabetic retinopathy and cognitive decline in older people with type 2 diabetes presented at Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference March 3 2010


Created on: 04/13/2010
Reviewed on: 04/13/2010

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