By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
Researchers at Tenon Hospital in Paris have found that patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease whose vision improved after cataract surgery also showed improvement in cognitive ability, mood, sleep patterns and other behaviors.
This is the first study to specifically assess whether cataract surgery could benefit Alzheimer’s patients, although earlier research had shown that poor vision is related to impaired mood and thinking skills in older people and that cataract surgery could improve their quality of life.
Thirty-eight patients, average age 85 and all exhibiting mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, completed the study.
All participants had debilitating cataract in at least one eye and were appropriately treated with standard cataract surgery and implantation of intraocular lenses, which replace the eyes’ natural lenses in order to provide vision correction.
After surgery, distance and near vision improved dramatically in all but one of the Alzheimer’s patients.
A neuropsychologist assessed the Alzheimer’s patients for mood and depression, behavior, ability to function independently and cognitive abilities at one month before and three months after cataract surgery.
Cognitive status, the ability to perceive, understand and respond appropriately to one’s surroundings, improved in 25 percent of patients. Depression was relieved in many of them, and the level of improvement was similar to what commonly occurs after cataract surgery in elderly people who do not have dementia.
No changes were found in patients’ level of autonomy, that is, their ability to function independently.
Sleep patterns improved and nighttime behavior problems decreased in most study patients.
Other studies have shown that when cataracts are removed, levels of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin become normalized. Dr. Girard notes that this may have been a key factor in the Alzheimer’s patients’ improved sleep patterns.
Since removing cataracts can improve the ability of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to function, improve their mood, cognition and sleep patterns, then this is another means to help those we love with this debilitating disease.
Dr. Mark S. Siegel is the medical director at Sea Island Ophthalmology on Ribaut Road in Beaufort.
Visit www.seaislandophthalmology.com for more information.