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Untreated vision problems linked to dementia in the elderly

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Elderly people with untreated poor vision are significantly more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia than their clear-sighted counterparts, according to a study published online February 18 by the American Journal of Epidemiology. What’s more, the study suggests that vision problems may be a contributing factor in the development of dementia, rather than a symptom of it.

When elderly people with poor vision went to an ophthalmologist even once, their risk of dementia was reduced by 64 percent, the study found. People who had undergone eye procedures to treat glaucoma and correct cataracts were also less likely to develop dementia.

“Visual problems can have serious consequences and are very common among the elderly, but many of them are not seeking treatment,” said University of Michigan researcher Mary Rogers, the study’s lead author, in a prepared statement.

Poor vision often prevents people from participating in the types of activities thought to reduce Alzheimer’s risk, such as socializing, reading, and physical activity. Early treatment of vision disorders, the authors suggest, could delay the onset of dementia, and of Alzheimer’s disease in particular.

The study analyzed medical data and surveys from 625 elderly Americans. The data was collected from 1992-2005, with each person’s health followed for an average of 8.5 years.

Thirteen million Americans are expected to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating vision problems early may make that number less daunting. “If we can delay the onset of dementia, we can save individuals and their families from the stress, cost and burden that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” Rogers said.

 

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/gabyjalbert





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  1. 1. RevCJ 1:46 am 02/19/2010

    A single ophthomologist visit can significantly reduce the chances of dimentia… does that assume the ophthomologist can DO SOMETHING about the condition? What if the patient DOES see the ophthomologist, and there is nothing that can be done? What if the cause of the diminished vision is NOT an eye problem, but from nerve damage? Do the same findings hold true?

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  2. 2. j.quasimodo 6:58 am 02/19/2010

    As usual, be cautious about correlation: the fact that a senior goes to an ophthalmologist suggests that the senior may be getting good medical care in general. But 64% is a whopping difference.
    The speculation that poor vision accelerates dementia by restricting helpful activities sounds valid but maybe there’s something deeper. Vision uses a large part of our brains, and the brain may try to compensate for the poor information flow by using up more processing capability, which then isn’t available for other tasks. The ability of the brain to reorganize itself as needed persists to old age.
    The good news here is the addtion to the number of things we can do to keep the thing working.

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