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Research Updates Related to Vision and Aging

Moving Toward Early Identification of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Researchers from The University of Manchester (England) “have taken an important step towards finding a (new) treatment for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)…” and “were able to identify early signs of the disease which could be targeted by new treatments before symptoms develop.” So states an article in Medical Xpress, citing a study published by PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Building on the knowledge that people with certain genetic factors are at greater risk of developing ARMD, scientists found higher incidences of “mast cells” in the eyes of those with the risk genes, even with no symptoms. Mast cells emerge as one of the first defenses of the immune system against infection. Although scientists have known that more mast cells exist in people known to have ARMD, this new finding identified elevated levels before the disease develops. This research was led by Paul Bishop, professor of ophthalmology at The University of Manchester, collaborating with Dr. Richard Unwin in Manchester and Prof Simon Clear, previously at Manchester, now at the University of Tübingen. Dr. Unwin explained the significance of this finding, stating that “This gives us a look into the very earliest stages, and gives us hope that we can intervene to stop the disease developing and ultimately prevent loss of vision.” For more details about this study read the article: A step closer to treatment for the most common form of blindness.

Vision Loss in Older Adults Often Mistaken for Cognitive Impairment

A new study released by the University of South Australia (UNiSA) reports that older people with vision loss are at risk of being misdiagnosed as having mild cognitive impairment. “Millions of older people with poor vision are at risk of being misdiagnosed with mild brain decline due to cognitive tests that rely on vision-dependent tasks.” Incorrect diagnoses can occur among many older people who have unidentified visual problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Study leader and UNiSA PhD candidate Anne Macnamara stated that “’A mistaken score in cognitive tests could have devastating ramifications, leading to unnecessary changes to a person’s living, working, financial or social circumstances.” Furthermore, the researchers noted that vision impairments are often overlooked in “research and clinical settings.” As the population continues to age, the study team emphasizes the need for neuro-degenerative researchers to “control for vision when assessing people’s cognition.” Macnamara noted that “‘Mobile apps can now be used to overlay simulated visual impairments onto test materials when piloting their stimuli'” and that screening tasks can be conducted prior to having participants perform cognitive tests. Read more in the ScienceDaily article: Poor eyesight unfairly mistaken for brain decline. For the detailed study results, from Scientific Reports, read The effect of age-related macular degeneration on cognitive test performance.