Better Vision May Improve Long-Term Brain Health

4 mins read

A recent study from England has found that people who have had cataract surgery have had better mental function in later life. The report joins a growing body of research that suggests that taking care of vision has benefits for older adults beyond just improving sight.

Researchers compared the rates of cognitive decline before and after patients had cataract surgery. The researchers found the rate of cognitive decline was slowed by 50 percent following cataract surgery over 13 years of follow-up. 

The rate of decline among people who had cataract surgery was slower after the surgery compared with beforehand and became similar to the decline among those with no cataracts.

Other studies have associated visual impairment with lower cognitive ability in older adults. But until now, about it wasn’t known whether improving vision through cataract surgery would help slow changes in mental function. 

The new study included 2,068 adults who underwent cataract surgery and 3,636 adults with no cataracts. Researchers tested participants’ memory by asking them to recall 10 words, both immediately after the words were read aloud and then again after participants had been distracted by other tasks.

The researchers note that scientists still don’t know why vision problems affect cognitive decline. But they think that the isolation, embarrassment and lack of physical activity from vision problems may contribute to the problem.

There is little doubt that cataract surgery is very likely to improve a person’s vision, which can allow people to stay active and independent. 

If you can’t do things for yourself because you can’t see well, it’s easy to fall into a slump and withdraw from daily activities. This could affect a person’s cognitive abilities.

Studies suggests that improving vision isn’t the only benefit of cataract surgery, it also improves quality of life and delays or lessens cognitive decline in adults. The results also suggest that patients who had cataract surgery — and their caregivers — have less emotional distress compared with patients who did not have the surgery and their caregivers.

Other Benefits of Cataract Surgery

One study found that when older people have cataract surgery to improve their vision, they also lower the risk of falling and breaking a hip. 

Another study of 55- to 85-year-olds with and without cataracts found that those with cataracts were four times more likely to report difficulties with a challenging driving situations. Drivers with cataracts were also 2.5 times more likely to have a history of at-fault crash involvement in the prior five years.

Correcting Vision Improves Quality of Life

I’ve seen in my practice that correcting vision problems, including cataracts, can make a big difference in a person’s quality of life.

Sometimes family members say, “My mother doesn’t do much anymore – she doesn’t read, or drive, and she’s a little confused, so why bother doing surgery?”

Here’s with I say to that. I’ve seen some pretty amazing changes in older patients who have their eye conditions treated. Cataract surgery is a safe outpatient procedure. It can enhance people’s lives and make them more engaged with the world.

Sometimes something as simple as getting new eyeglasses can make a difference in an older person’s vision. It helps maintain your driving vision, allows you to see your pills and the food on your plate. It helps them to read, watch TV and interact with their loved-ones.

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