Alzheimer Risk Correlated with Incidence of Diabetic Retinopathy in Patients With Diabetes

The study also found that patients without diabetes have a higher Alzheimer risk than patients with diabetes who don’t have ocular complications.

This article is part of Ophthalmology Advisor’s conference coverage from the 2021 meeting of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), held virtually from May 1 to 7, 2021. The team at Ophthalmology Advisor will be reporting on a variety of the research presented by the eye and vision experts at ARVO. Check back for more from the ARVO 2021 Meeting.


Patients with diabetic retinopathy (DR) face a higher risk of developing Alzheimer disease (AD) than those without DR, according to findings presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) 2021 Annual Meeting, held virtually May 1 to May 7. The study also shows having diabetes without DR reduces the risk of AD compared with patients who don’t have diabetes at all. 

A European research team conducted a register-based national cohort study to investigate DR as a risk marker of 5-year incident AD. Participants included 134,327 diabetes patients who are above 60 years of age and 651,936 age- and gender-matched controls without diabetes. They used a logistic regression model and a Cox proportional hazard model to evaluate AD risk in patients with DR, adjusting for age, gender, civil status, antihypertensive and lipid lowering medication use, and depression.

The study’s multivariate regression model found that those with diabetes were less likely to have AD at baseline (95% CI 0.58-0.67). Incident AD was registered during followup in 0.4% (n=1454) of patients with diabetes and 0.39% (n=6796) of patients without diabetes. Those with diabetes and no DR had a lower risk of developing AD compared with those without diabetes (95% CI 0.82-0.94), while patients with both diabetes and DR had a higher AD risk (95%CI 1.08-1.43). At baseline, 0.7% of patients with diabetes and 1.3% without diabetes had AD.

Other recent findings published in JAMA Ophthalmology suggest that retinal imaging can capture both functional and structural changes in the early detection of in vivo AD.

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Pederson F, Thykjær AS, Grauslund J, et al. Diabetic retinopathy independently predicts five-year risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Poster presented at: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO); May 1-7, 2021; virtual. Abstract 3499932.