Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Vision Loss and Dementia

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS intern:

Older adults with vision loss may be more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology. The study found that “distance acuity, near acuity, and contrast sensitivity impairment are each associated with a higher prevalence of dementia among older US adults.” It concluded that the risk could be reduced for Alzheimer’s and other forms of  dementia by getting vision problems corrected, through methods such as eye exams, eyeglasses, and cataract surgery. Investigators from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, analyzed data from the NIA (National Institute on Aging)-funded  University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study tracking changes in health and economic circumstances. This research found that about 100,000 cases of dementia were associated with visual impairment, and projected that by 2050, that total would rise to around 250,000. The findings add to growing evidence that fading eyesight is a risk factor for developing dementia. “We hypothesized that visual impairment would be associated with dementia because prior studies found an association,” lead study author Olivia Killeen, M.D., clinical lecturer for Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Michigan, commenting on the newly released research. “Eye health and brain health are closely linked in older adults,” she added. “This study is unique because it used up-to-date, objectively measured visual acuity (meaning participants had their vision tested),” she continued. “This allowed us to analyze the associations between visual acuity and dementia.” The good news is that most vision problems are treatable, Killeen concluded. Although the number of people with dementia is growing with an aging population, currently, cures and effective drug treatment remain elusive. Therefore, public health experts and researchers are emphasizing the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors, including untreated high blood pressure, hearing loss, and most recently, vision loss. Eye exams, eyeglass prescriptions and cataract surgery are relatively inexpensive — and more accessible — compared to other interventions or the long-term care people with dementia often require. For more information on this study, read the article in JAMA Ophthalmology/JAMA Network here on Objectively Measured Visual Impairment and Dementia Prevalence in Older Adults in the US as well as the Yahoo News piece on Vision problems could mean higher dementia risk, study finds: ‘Eye health and brain health are closely linked.’ More demographic information is included in the NIA article entitled Vision Impairment is Associated with as Many as 100,000 U.S. Dementia Cases. and one about the NIA-funded Health and Retirement Study