Vision Impairment Linked with Cognitive Decline

Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss with a greater risk of developing dementia among older adults and now a study of older women has found vision impairment may also be associated with an increased risk for dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). 

According to a recent National Institute on Aging report, data on 1,061 community-dwelling women between the ages of 66 and 84 was used to measure visual impairment and its association with dementia and MCI.  Vision impairment, especially more severe impairment, was linked with a greater risk for dementia.

The study, although limited to women, suggests that vision screening and treatment for vision problems may be an important intervention to help reduce the risk of developing dementia among older adults.  

In previous studies of vision impairment and cognition, study participants who had visual acuity and wore glasses demonstrated better cognitive function.  Reading glasses and regular eye exams could offer a measure of protection for older adults against impaired cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Just as older adults with untreated hearing loss may withdraw from social interaction and find it difficult to follow conversations, or even listen to the news, people with vision loss may also lose the ability to read well, watch television or participate in activities that require good eyesight.  Of course, vision affects the ability to drive, leaving older adults at greater risk for social isolation when alternative transportation is a challenge. 

Visual impairment affects nearly 3 million older adults in the United States and it can significantly affect quality of life.  Worsening eyesight is associated with declining cognition making the case for annual visits to the eye doctor.  As medical offices reopen, it is worthwhile for seniors to keep up with all their regular health screenings, including hearing and vision checkups.   Cognitive training programs for older adults with low vision may also help improve quality of life and the ability of older adults with vision impairment to perform daily tasks and maintain independence and good self-esteem.