Cataract removal surgery is associated with a 30% lower risk of dementia for older people. That's what researchers from the University of Washington found in a new study.
They looked at more than 3,000 people aged 65 and older who were already enrolled in a study about aging. After analyzing the data, they found that people who had surgery to remove their cataracts had a 30% lower risk of developing dementia — Alzheimer's disease specifically — than those who did not have the surgery. Plus, they found that the risk stayed lower for at least 10 years.
“This kind of evidence is as good as it gets in epidemiology,” says Dr. Cecilia Lee, an ophthalmologist at the University of Washington. “This is really exciting because no other medical intervention has shown such a strong association with lessening dementia risk in older individuals.”
The researchers did not study how or why the reduced risk happens. But they say it may have to do with people getting a higher quality of sensory input after cataract surgery. Or that people get more blue light after cataract removal. Lee says cells in the eye associated with sleep cycles and cognition respond well to blue light.
Cataracts cause your vision to get cloudy or blurry. Colors might seem dull. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website includes information about cataracts and notes that cataracts are common, especially among the elderly, and approximately half of all people age 80 and older have them or have had surgery to remove them. Cataracts usually happen as part of the aging process when proteins in the lens of your eye break down and clump together. You can sometimes notice when someone has them because there might be a little glint in their eye, as is there's a prism in there refracting light.
Researchers of the new study about cataracts and risk of dementia say more research into the eye-brain connection could reveal additional ways to slow or prevent age-related dementia.
The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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