To many of us, the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” may seem cheesy at best. But in some sense, it’s actually true. From high cholesterol to heart disease, the appearance of our eyes — for example, visible blood vessels, dilated pupils, or a yellow cast — can give an inside look into our overall health. Some clues our eyes are giving might not be visible to the naked eye, but that doesn’t make them any less important. And as it turns out, visiting an ophthalmologist might tell you something about the health of your brain. New research identifies a specific underlying eye health issue that may be a sign of early cognitive decline.
A recent study abstract published in JAMA Ophthalmology looked at the connection between eye health and brain function from childhood to adulthood. Researchers focused on the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) and ganglion cell layer (GCL) as people age, because previous studies have proposed that the thickness of these layers in the retina could be potential indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. Reasons for the RNFL becoming thinner over time are often correlated with fibromyalgia, which is when a person experiences widespread muscle pain and tenderness — and age is another factor in this eye health issue.
A total of 1,037 participants from New Zealand born between 1972 and 1973 were included in this study. Participants were followed up with until they reached age 45, with 94 percent of those living still taking part in the research. At ages seven, nine, 11, and 45, the authors measured each participant’s IQ, processing speed, verbal comprehension, and perceptual reasoning. Data from these measurements were analyzed between August 2020 and April 2021.
By the end of the study period, researchers found that thinning of the RNFL and GCL was linked with a lower IQ, both in childhood and at age 45. The authors also claimed that a thinner RNFL was associated with a greater reduction in brain processing speed from childhood to adulthood. These findings led the authors to conclude that these aspects of eye health might be helpful in predicting a person’s cognitive function as they age.
In addition, previous research has linked a thinner RNFL with the development of glaucoma. This eye condition occurs when there’s excess pressure within the eyes that causes nerve damage. Glaucoma is also a leading cause of blindness in adults over 60.
So, what does this mean for you? If you’re experiencing vision troubles or signs of cognitive decline (such as brain fog or memory loss), consult with your eye doctor to pinpoint the root cause. You may even mention this research during your appointment, as it could help determine whether your issues are related to the thickness of your RNFL.
Beyond preserving your vision, this study shows that understanding your eye health has multiple benefits. When it comes to ensuring that your memory stays in tip-top shape for years to come, it’s worth taking a closer look!