By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
After practicing ophthalmology for nearly 15 years and performing thousands of cataract surgeries, I’ve recognized additional benefits beyond better vision and spectacle independence: patients improve their ability to ambulate; cognitive function and mood are improved in patients with dementia and depression; and overall quality of life improves.
When older people have cataract surgery to improve their vision, they also lower their risk of falling and breaking a hip, according to a national study. People in their 80s and those who have serious illnesses such as heart disease are most likely to benefit — the research shows that these patients had about 30 percent fewer hip fractures in the year after they had cataract surgery. The study, published in the August edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared the rate of hip fractures in more than 400,000 Medicare patients who had cataract surgery with a matched group of patients who did not have their cataracts removed.
Older people are more likely to fall and break their hips or other bones, and recovering from such injuries is often difficult for them. Earlier studies have found that vision loss is a key reason for seniors’ higher risk of falling. When cataracts and other aging eye problems decrease older people’s visual sharpness and depth perception, they also lose the ability to maintain balance, stability and mobility.
People should never be regarded as “too old” to have their cataracts removed. Other studies show that after cataract surgery, older people tend to sleep better, be less depressed, and lead more active, enjoyable lives.
Overall, the greatest decrease in hip fracture risk was seen in patients aged 80 to 84 who had cataract surgery. Another notable group was patients with severe cataracts, for whom risk was reduced by 23 percent. Although U.S. health statistics show that women are more susceptible to hip fractures than men, this study found no significant gender-linked differences in fracture risk.