If you’ve been putting off cataract surgery or taking your time ordering a new pair of glasses, here’s a reason to reconsider: Fixing your vision may help stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Researchers in recent years have uncovered a strong correlation between vision impairment and dementia. While the studies haven’t proved that vision problems cause dementia, or vice versa, they do show that treating a vision problem is linked with a lower risk of developing problems with memory and thinking skills over time.
“This is key because it’s a late-life factor that we can potentially do something about,” says Jennifer Deal, a public health researcher who studies dementia and cognitive decline at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
With Alzheimer’s drugs so far making little progress in beating back the disease, many public health officials have turned their focus to addressing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “modifiable risk factors” that could help prevent cognitive decline from happening in the first place.
The latest research has prompted some experts to make the case that untreated vision loss deserves more attention as a modifiable risk factor for dementia.
More than 1 out of every 10 Americans age 65 and older have vision impairment, according to the CDC. As many as 70 to 80 percent of those cases are easily correctable by getting the right eyeglasses or with cataract surgery, experts say.
“There’s a lot of potential opportunity here,” says Willa Brenowitz, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “Compared to a lot of other risk factors, [vision loss] is understudied, and older adults tend to have under-corrected vision or they are waiting to get their cataract surgery. Treating their vision loss could improve their quality of life, and that may in turn prevent dementia or slow the decline.”
Studies link vision loss to dementia
The idea of a sensory deficit contributing to dementia risk isn’t new. Hearing loss, which has long been linked to cognitive problems, is the largest modifiable risk factor for dementia, according to a 2020 Lancet Commission report. It’s estimated to account for about 9 percent of dementia cases, according to the report.