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

Br J Ophthalmol. 2017 Jul;101(7):993-998. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2016-309017. Epub 2016 Oct 17.


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.

Keywords: Imaging; Retina.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Arterioles / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microvessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retinal Vessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Singapore
  • Venules / diagnostic imaging