If you didn’t know every month of the year has a disease or condition given attention. This is to make the public aware of it. June is no exception as there are so many causes and only 12 months in a year so there are multiple causes every month. This month is Alzheimer and Brain Awareness Month and it is also Cataract Awareness Month. In the past, these two conditions have had no known connections. Recent research has uncovered a possible link. Let’s start with a brief description of each of these.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss and progressing to disruptions in daily life, and changes in mood, personality, or behavior. Most often diagnosed in adults over 65. The eventual life expectancy for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is 4 to 8 years after diagnosis but can be up to 20 years.
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged window. Cataracts are fairly common for senior citizens and are not a life-threatening condition. It is, however, vision-threatening.
So what is the link between these two so totally different conditions?
Recent research has noted a link between cataracts and dementia. Most cataract surgery is a procedure to remove the clouded lens of the eye and replace it with an artificial lens. The study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal medicine suggests cataract surgery not only sharpens the vision but may keep the mind sharper too and help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia over time. The research found a 29% lower risk in people who had cataract surgery versus those who did not.
Theories that support why the cataract surgery link to lower dementia risks:
- Reduced input to the brain is detrimental to the brain (the use it or lose it theory).
- Not being able to see may lead people to restrict mental, physical activity, and social engagement.
- Vision loss along with other age-related challenges may contribute to depression.
The research done in the study and past similar studies has been limited. More future studies are needed. Studies that address sensory loss and dementia are both associated with aging.