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Seeing Beyond: Exploring the Link Between Dementia and Cataracts

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As we journey through life, our bodies age and undergo many changes. Two common, yet often overlooked, conditions that impact individuals as they age are dementia and cataracts.   

Dementia, the most common form of Alzheimer’s, affects memory, thinking, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Over 55 million people worldwide face dementia and around ten million people are diagnosed each year. 

In the U.S. alone, more than 20.5 million people suffer from cataracts. A cataract forms when the protein in the lens in the eye breaks down, usually as we grow older. This causes clouding in the eye and affects vision. 

You might be thinking, what do dementia and cataracts have to do with one another? There’s a study called, “The Adult Changes in Thought Study”, also known as the ACT Study. With the research that the ACT Study has done, researchers have found a link between the two. 

Dr. Alexander Foster, a board-certified ophthalmologist with BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists who specializes in cataract treatments, explains how this study was conducted. 

Researchers had a very simple goal, to better understand the aging brain. "The criteria were also very simple. You needed to be a cognitively normal individual, someone without a diagnosis of dementia, and at or over the age of 65. These patients were selected at random through electronic medical records and then they were followed bi-annually for three whole decades.” 

After 30 years of research, the ACT Study revealed some shocking results 

“Cataract intervention through surgical means significantly reduced the development of dementia by 30 percent.” 

Although this study demonstrates a lowered chance of dementia after cataract surgery, avoiding dementia risks should not be the sole driver for electing cataract surgery. 

“We would never lead with that information because I don’t feel like it’s particularly beneficial to try to scare a patient into surgery simply for lowering the risk of dementia, Dr. Foster said. 

Even with the results of this study, more studies are needed to determine exactly how cataract removal affects dementia. 

There are small signs that you may notice if you’re developing cataracts, such as blurred vision, light sensitivity, and poor night vision. This is when we encourage patients to seek medical advice.  

“Early on, people might start to notice a little bit of glare at nighttime,” said Dr. Foster. “The distance vision starts to blur, and a new pair of glasses or new pair of contacts can help with that. But there will come a point where you’re limited by that cataract that’s obstructing the view.” 

If a cataract is left untreated, it can cause blindness or glaucoma. If you believe that you’re developing cataracts or already have cataracts, schedule an appointment with one of our providers to see if you’re a candidate for cataract removal.  

BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists has a strong and rich history in the community of serving individuals. We want you to see as well as you can, for as long as you can.

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2024