Retinal microvascular network geometry and cognitive abilities in community-dwelling older people: The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study

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Abstract

Aim

To examine the relationship between retinal vascular morphology and cognitive abilities in a narrow-age cohort of community-dwelling older people.

Methods

Digital retinal images taken at age ∼73 years from 683 participants of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936) were analysed with Singapore I Vessel Assessment (SIVA) software. Multiple regression models were applied to determine cross-sectional associations between retinal vascular parameters and general cognitive ability (g), memory, processing speed, visuospatial ability, crystallised cognitive ability and change in IQ from childhood to older age.

Results

After adjustment for cognitive ability at age 11 years and cardiovascular risk factors, venular length-to-diameter ratio was nominally significantly associated with processing speed (β=−0.116, p=0.01) and g (β=−0.079, p=0.04). Arteriolar length-to-diameter ratio was associated with visuospatial ability (β=0.092, p=0.04). Decreased arteriolar junctional exponent deviation and increased arteriolar branching coefficient values were associated with less relative decline in IQ between childhood and older age (arteriolar junctional exponent deviation: β=−0.101, p=0.02; arteriolar branching coefficient: β=0.089, p=0.04). Data are presented as standardised β coefficients (β) reflecting change in cognitive domain score associated with an increase of 1 SD unit in retinal parameter. None of these nominally significant associations remained significant after correction for multiple statistical testing.

Conclusions

Retinal parameters contributed <1% of the variance in the majority of associations observed. Whereas retinal analysis may have potential for early detection of some types of age-related cognitive decline and dementia, our results present little evidence that retinal vascular features are associated with non-pathological cognitive ageing.

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