An eye exam could show you how likely your death rate is in the following decade

  • A study found that those with older retinas than they actually are were more at risk. 
  • A 1 year gap in age between them resulted in a 22% higher chance of dying 
  • Retina age scans could be a screening tool to find at risk people, experts hope
  • Researchers examined 36,000 retina scans from Britons and conducted international research 

Researchers suggest that eye scans may be used in the future to determine your death risk. 

Researchers claim that the retina is a window, allowing doctors to get a better look at someone’s health. 

Australian scientists now link a larger’retina age gap’ with a higher risk of dying. 

Gap is defined as the difference in someone’s estimated biological age and chronological age. 

This can be done by an AI program which analyzes images from the fundus. This service is offered by some opticians on the high streets. 

According to Australian researchers who followed volunteers over 11 years, people with gaps greater than ten years were 67% more likely to die.  

For every year that there were gaps, academics estimated that there would be a 2 percent increase in death risk. 

Experts analysed retina scans taken from 36,000 Britons, they found those with retinas older than their biological age were at increased risk of death. Each one year gap between a person's retina age and their biological age was associated with a 2 per cent increased risk of death

Analyzing retina scans of 36,000 Britons, experts found people with retinas that were older than their biological age had a higher risk of dying. A 2 percent increase in death risk was found for every year that a person has been separated by their retina age from their biological age. 

What’s the retina? 

One layer of cells that lies behind the pupil and at the rear of the eyeball is the retina.

It converts light entering the eye into chemical signals.

These chemical messages reach the brain, and are interpreted by the eyes to form the visual images we see.

Recent studies suggest that scanning the retina can be a useful way to identify heart disease.

This is because poor circulation, a possible early indicator of heart disease, can cause parts of the retina to die, leaving a permanent mark.  

When performing a routine eye exam, optometrists often examine the retinas in both eyes to identify other health issues.

Some UK optometrists can perform more detailed, specialised retina scans. However, these may not be included in the standard eye test.  

Melbourne’s Centre for Eye Research developed an artificial intelligence algorithm for predicting retinal age using almost 19,000 fundus scannings. 

These estimates came within three and a half years on the average of the actual age for each person. 

Next, they assessed the difference in retinal age between 36,000 individuals who had been taken from UK Biobank. 

Over half of those with retinas were three years or more older than their real biological age. 

Research published in British Journal of Ophthalmology found that some had retinas 10 years old. 

The data was then combined with the health information from participants over an average period of 11 years. This allowed them to connect causes of death and their retinal age gap. 

1,800 (or 5 percent) participants perished during this period. The vast majority of participants were affected by heart disease, dementia and cancer.    

An increase in the risk of death due to other diseases such as heart disease and cancer was seen with large age-aps.

Similar results were also obtained by researchers using left-eye images of the retina, which was used in a parallel study.

One of the authors Dr Lisa Zhuoting Zhu said that these findings suggested that retinal age could be a clinically important biomarker for ageing. 

“The retina provides a unique and accessible window to assess the pathological process of systemic neurological disease, which is associated with an increased risk of death.

“This hypothesis was supported by past studies which suggested that retinal images could provide insight into cardiovascular risk factors, chronic renal diseases and systemic biomarkers.

The light-sensitive nerve tissue layers at the back and retina scans have previously been used for warning signs of cardiovascular disease.