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Elderly with untreated poor vision could risk dementia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers now find that that elderly individuals who suffer from untreated poor vision could be at greater risk for dementia. Many seniors lack health insurance to cover the cost of eye exams, and could consequently be at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

Compared to elders who had not visited an ophthalmologist, seniors who kept up with treatment for poor vision were sixty four percent less likely to develop dementia according to findings extracted from the Health and Retirement Study and records from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Researcher Mary A.M. Rogers, PhD, research assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School says, "Our results indicate that it is important for elderly individuals with visual problems to seek medical attention so that the causes of the problems can be identified and treated."

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Correcting poor vision from cataracts, glaucoma, retinal disorders and other eye problems among seniors were most likely to lower the chances of dementia. Vision loss in the elderly interferes with activities needed to maintain a healthy brain, including reading, board games, and regular exercise.

The authors also note that lack of insurance could be interfering with seniors obtaining regular eye exams. Rogers points out that "Many elderly Americans do not have adequate health coverage for vision, and Medicare does not cover preventative vision screenings for most beneficiaries. So it's not unusual that the elderly receive vision treatment only after a problem is severe enough to warrant a visit to the doctor when the problem is more advanced."

Rogers also says Alzheimer's disease is on the rise, "So 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."
The study was based on surveys that included medical information from 625 people showed that just ten percent of elderly individuals who developed dementia had excellent vision at the start of the study. Seniors who remained dementia free maintained excellent vision throughout the 1992 to 2005 study, providing the link between untreated vision problems and dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is expected to occur in 13 million people by 2050, and one in five individuals over age 50 has a vision problem. The new findings suggest that treating vision problems in the elderly could reduce the burden of dementia and Alzheimer's disease on individuals and family members, and ultimately save money related to health care spending.

American Journal of Epidemiology