After reading that problems with blood vessels in the eye might be a sign of similar problems in the brain, I asked Mom to get Dad’s eye exam records.
A study published in the January issue of Stroke showed that for people with high blood pressure, abnormalities of the blood vessels in the eye are associated with small strokes that can be detected only with an MRI . Patients and their families might not notice any one of these strokes, but the combined effect could cause dementia.
These same abnormalities may mean a patient has a higher than normal risk of having a stroke (see http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673601062535/abstract - this requires free registration to The Lancet).
My father did not have high blood pressure, but because his autopsy results had tentatively shown “hypertensive arteriosclerosis” (thickening of the blood vessel walls associated with high blood pressure), I thought it might be helpful to know if the blood vessels in his eye showed any problems.
Tien Wong, MD, PhD is co-author of the new study in Stroke and the two other studies I linked to above. He sent me this photograph below as a sample of the retinal blood vessel disease an eye doctor might see. The red spots are retinal hemorrhages and aneuryisms, he explained, while the yellow spot indicates a mini-stroke.
Retinal photograph courtesy of Tien Y Wong, MD, PhD, Centre for Eye Research Australia, University of Melbourne
It turns out that the blood vessels in Dad’s eyes were normal. I’m not sure if that would lead his neurologist to suspect my father’s microbleeds were not caused by hypertensive arteriosclerosis. Either way, I would think anyone with dementia would want to ask his eye doctor to check for signs of retinal blood vessel abnormalities, and report the results to his neurologist and other doctors.