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The Link Between Eye Diseases and Dementia

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According to a September 2021 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease may be linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

For the study, researchers gathered information on more than 12,300 adults aged 55 to 73, some with sight-threatening vision conditions, some without. Based on data from 2006 to 2010, the study followed up with participants periodically until early 2021.

During the length of the study, 2,300 participants developed cognitive problems.

Results of The Study

Breaking down the number of people who developed dementia, the researchers compared the number of people who started the study with vision issues to those who did not. They discovered that:

  • In those with age-related macular degeneration, the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia was 26% higher than for those who did not.
  • Participants who had diabetes-related eye disease had a 61% higher risk for Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Participants with cataracts had an 11% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Glaucoma did not directly correlate with increased rates of  Alzheimer’s, however, the study did find a link between glaucoma and forms of dementia often seen after suffering a stroke.
  • A clinically significant increased rate of dementia was found in patients who had more than one of the above vision conditions, and in those who also had systemic illnesses or conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure along with eye disease.
  • A past history of stroke or heart attack along with eye disease also increased the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers emphasized that the study does not prove that visual problems actually cause dementia. Rather, the study highlights the connection between the two, and the usefulness of visual issues as a marker for overall risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.


How do I tell the difference between symptoms of dementia and vision loss?

It can sometimes be hard to tell if your relative with dementia has vision loss because the two conditions share similar symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty reading
  • Difficulty recognizing people
  • Disinterest in hobbies and daily activities
  • Difficulty finding objects
  • Reduced body coordination, bumping into furniture
  • Low motivation to engage in enjoyable activities, such as watching TV or driving

If you suspect that your relative, diagnosed with dementia, may be suffering from vision loss, schedule an evaluation with an optometrist. Eye exams can be tailored to the specific needs of dementia patients in order to determine if their symptoms are exacerbated by vision loss.

What can I do to help someone with sight loss and dementia?

Here are some practical ideas you can do to help a loved one maintain their quality of life:

  • As soon as any signs of dementia occur, schedule an eye examination.
  • Make sure they receive regular eye exams, and that their optical prescriptions are up-to-date.
  • If you suspect there may be significant vision loss, schedule an appointment with a low vision optometrist, who can provide them with the most appropriate low vision aids and devices.
  • Consult with your local dementia association, which can provide practical tips about home devices that can assist a person with dementia and/or vision loss.
  • Consider installing automatic lights, to reduce the need to search for light switches.
  • Make improvements to their environment, such as moving furniture and other obstacles to places where they are less in the way. Improved lighting enhances safety.
  • Inform their eye doctors and physicians of their ocular and cognitive challenges.

At New Era Eyecare, we put your family's needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 703-830-3977 or book an appointment online to see one of our Clifton eye doctors.

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