Eye exams in the elderly may detect more than just vision problems. A new study adds to the evidence that certain types of vision problems may be associated with an increased risk of dementia. By the age of 40, the AAO recommends that all healthy adults have a baseline eye exam. Seniors over 65 should be seen once every one to two years. Focusing on eye health benefits overall health and specifically cognitive health. Find out more about how eye exams catch dementia!
Vision Loss and Dementia: A Balancing Act
Vision loss and cognitive decline have long been linked by doctors. Many studies have found that older adults with poor vision are twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A large study of 1,200 adults adds to the evidence for this link. For 16 years, researchers examined the vision of adults with dementia for three types of vision loss. They also assessed the adults’ language, memory, attention, and various mental agility measures, such as their ability to plan, pay attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks.
How Eye Exams Catch Dementia
Here’s what the new study discovered:
- People with the poorest visual acuity were at the greatest risk of losing their language and memory.
- Those who struggled to detect objects against similar-colored backgrounds, also known as contrast sensitivity, were at a higher risk of declining language, memory, attention, and visuospatial ability.
- People with poor depth perception are more likely to experience cognitive and memory decline.
The study relied on mental agility tests that required good vision, which critics say could have muddied the results. Furthermore, because the study focused on primarily white, well-educated older adults, the findings may not apply to other populations.
Which Came First ? Vision Loss Or Dementia?
It’s unclear whether vision loss causes dementia or vice versa. According to a recent study, it may work both ways: older people with dementia are more likely to develop vision impairment than others, and those with vision impairment are more likely to develop dementia. More research is needed to determine whether – and how – these conditions are linked.
Macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts are all common causes of vision loss. Certain medical conditions may have an impact on both vision and cognition. Or that vision loss contributes to depression or social isolation, both of which can have an impact on cognition. A recent South Korean study discovered that people with both vision and hearing impairments are twice as likely to develop dementia as those with only one or neither impairment.
However, the new findings highlight one critical point: the importance of regular eye exams for seniors. Eye exams can not only detect vision loss early, but they may also identify seniors at risk of dementia.
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