Keep your eye doctor appointments — or risk dementia, study warns

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Failing eyesight could be an indicator of dementia, a study has found.

Research published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology found a link between untreated visual impairments and the likelihood of developing dementia.

The study, led by clinician Dr. Joshua Ehrlich, analyzed data from nearly 3,000 participants, all over 71 years old and all of whom were screened for dementia using the AD8 Dementia Screening Interview, which tests for normal aging vs. mild dementia.

Everyone involved in the study was a part of the 2021 US National Health and Aging Trends Study.

Researchers tested their eyesight and found that those with sight loss were more likely to have dementia compared to people with no problems with their vision.

They also found people suffering from multiple vision problems were more likely to develop dementia in comparison to those with only one visual impairment.

Man getting eye test.
Researchers looked at the 2021 National Health and Aging Trends Study in the US, testing around 3,000 people.
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The researchers tracked the eyesight of the participants, giving them a vision test for both near and distance vision, as well as contrast sensitivity.

“We did all the research to make sure that in fact, the iPad tests are equivalent to (the) gold standard test in the doctor’s office, and we implemented this in the homes of thousands of older adults,” Ehrlich explained, per CNN.

According to the study, 12.3% of those involved showed signs of dementia. Those with distance visual impairment jumped to 19.5% and near visual impairment to 21.5%.

Old woman reading with magnifying glass.
Scientists found a correlation between failing eyesight and dementia.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

For those with severe visual impairment or who were blind, 32.9% showed signs of dementia.

“Visual loss is associated with social isolation, difficulty reading and in general a decrease in personal and social stimulation,” Sheila West, a professor in the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, wrote in the study commentary.

“Personal and social isolation are risk factors for cognitive decline,” she added. “If there is even an indirect link between vision impairment and loss of cognition, then improving vision should decrease the risk of dementia or at least slow progression.”

The study noted that the research team was unable to determine for sure if the vision impairment caused dementia, only that they were correlated, but added that it’s important to seek medical help for any vision problems.

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