Diabetic Retinopathy and Dementia Association, Beyond Diabetes Severity

Am J Ophthalmol. 2023 May:249:90-98. doi: 10.1016/j.ajo.2022.12.003. Epub 2022 Dec 10.


Purpose: To investigate whether associations between diabetic retinopathy (DR) and dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD) remain significant after controlling for several measures of diabetes severity.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Methods: Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) is a prospective cohort study of adults aged ≥65 years, randomly selected and recruited from the membership rolls of Kaiser Permanente Washington, who are dementia free at enrollment and followed biennially until incident dementia. The ACT participants were included in this study if they had type 2 diabetes mellitus at enrollment or developed it during follow-up, and data were collected through September, 2018 (3516 person-years of follow-up). Diabetes was defined by ≥ 2 diabetes medication fills in 1 year. Diagnosis of DR was based on International Classification of Diseases Ninth and Tenth Revision codes. Estimates of microalbuminuria, long-term glycemia, and renal function from longitudinal laboratory records were used as indicators of diabetes severity. Alzheimer's disease and dementia were diagnosed using research criteria at expert consensus meetings.

Results: A total of 536 participants (median baseline age 75 [interquartile range 71-80], 54% women) met inclusion criteria. Significant associations between DR >5 years duration with dementia (hazard ratio 1.81 [95% CI 1.23, 2.65]) and AD (1.80 [1.15, 2.82]) were not altered by adjustment for estimates of microalbuminuria, long-term glycemia, and renal function (dementia: 1.69 [1.14, 2.50]; AD: 1.73 [1.10, 2.74]).

Conclusions: Among people with type 2 diabetes, DR itself appears to be an important biomarker of dementia risk in addition to glycemia and renal complications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / epidemiology
  • Diabetic Retinopathy* / complications
  • Diabetic Retinopathy* / diagnosis
  • Diabetic Retinopathy* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors