Sarcopenia in older people is a major health issue and its early detection could help target interventions and improve health. Evidence suggests that poor muscle mass is associated with greater arterial stiffness and cardiovascular risk. Arterial stiffness in turn is associated with smaller retinal artery width. This study examined the association of muscle mass in older people with retinal vascular width, a non-invasive measure of vascular function.
Methods: Participants >65 years were recruited to a cross-sectional study.
Exclusions: Inability to walk independently; diabetes mellitus; stroke (within 6 months), severe macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal dystrophy; advanced cataract. Digital Retinal images of both eyes were analysed using the VAMPIRE software suite. Central Retinal Artery and Vein Equivalents (CRVE and CRAE) were measured. Body composition was measured using Dual Energy X ray Absorptimetry (DXA). Appendicular Skeletal Muscle Mass/Height(2) was calculated. Physical function was measured: 6-min walk distance, Short Physical performance battery, handgrip strength and quadriceps strength.
Results: 79 participants with mean age 72 (SD 6) years were recruited. 44% were female. Digital Retinal images of sufficient quality for measuring CRAE and CRVE were available for 51/75 (68%) of participants. Regression analysis showed significant association between larger ASMM/H(2) and smaller CRAE (β=-0.20, p=0.001) and CRVE (β=-0.12, p=0.05). Handgrip strength, body mass index and sex combined with CRAE explained 88% and with CRVE explained 86% of the variance in ASMM/H2.
Conclusion: Larger muscle mass was significantly associated with smaller retinal artery size in older people. This unexpected finding needs further investigation.