Tracking retina changes may help in schizophrenia management

A link between vision problems and schizophrenia is well known, with as many as 62 percent of adult patients with the disorder experiencing some kind of visual distortions involving form, motion, or colour.

Now researchers say tracking changes in the eye’s retina may help doctors provide more effective treatment for people with the disorder.

A team of researchers at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and Rutgers University studied retinal changes and their relationship to perceptual and cognitive impairments.

Approximately 170 studies were examined in the review and the findings were grouped into multiple categories, including changes in the retina compared with those in other parts of the eyes.

The findings revealed multiple structural and functional disturbances of the eye in schizophrenia, which could actually contribute to the onset of the disease.

These structural and functional eye problems involved the widening of small blood vessels, the thinning of the retinal nerve fibre, and the abnormal electrical responses by retinal cells exposed to light.

“Our analysis of many studies suggests that measuring retinal changes may help doctors in the future to adjust schizophrenia treatment for each patient,” says study co-author Richard B. Rosen, an ophthalmology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

“More studies are needed to drive the understanding of the contribution of retinal and other ocular pathology to disturbances seen in these patients, and our results will help guide future research.”

In a 2011 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers developed an almost 100 per cent accurate test to detect schizophrenics by looking at their gaze.

The test found people with schizophrenia showed well-documented deficits in the ability to track a slow-moving object smoothly with their eyes. Their movements fell behind the moving object and then caught up again through rapid eye movements. Conversely, most individuals followed a typical pattern with their gaze when they took the test.

Another past study also found that poorer visual acuity at age four predicted a diagnosis of schizophrenia in adulthood, and another report that children who later develop schizophrenia have elevated rates of strabismus, or misalignment of the eyes, compared to the general population.

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