Research has revealed that microvascular changes appear to be associated with the development of disability, which could pave the way for new preventative therapies to be created.
According to a report published Online First by Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, these changes predict the deterioration of adults" ability to take part in daily activities, with retinal signs possibly being useful in predicting outcomes among this demographic.
The authors noted that they have recently found that a higher burden of retinal signs was associated with poor executive function and physical function in a cross-sectional analysis.
"Based on this evidence, we hypothesised that retinal signs might predict future disability in performing activities of daily living," the experts explained.
Using data collected during the Cardiovascular Health Study, a population-based study of community-dwelling older adults, Dr Dae Hyun Kim, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues examined the association of retinal microvascular changes with disability to perform activities of daily living.
The retinal signs measured included generalised arteriolar narrowing, generalised venular widening, retinopathy, arteriovenous nicking and focal arteriolar narrowing.
During a median follow-up of 3.1 years and after adjusting for other factors, the presence of two or more retinal signs was associated with a 1.45-fold increased rate of disability, though individual retinal signs were not.
Further studying revealed that the presence of two or more retinal signs was associated with disability compared with having no signs, while having one retinal sign was not.
The authors said the study supports the hypothesis that microvascular disease accelerates age-related disability and retinal signs can be useful in understanding mechanisms and predicting outcomes.
"Our study suggests that the presence of two or more retinal signs may be an early marker of microvascular disease that portends an elevated risk for future activities of daily living disability in community-dwelling older adults independently of major risk factors for disability and microvascular disease on brain MRI," they concluded.
by Adrian Galbreth