If you have vision issues, you may face a higher dementia risk

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A recent study from the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center at Michigan Medicine concluded that people with vision issues — in addition to people who were unable to see well when they were wearing their prescribed glasses or contact lenses — were at a much higher risk of dementia than those without vision issues.

This conclusion was drawn from a sample of almost 3,000 people over 71, the average age being 77, according to Health Lab, Michigan Medicine’s health care publication. Participating adults took eyesight tests and cognitive tests. Factors studied included their close-up and distance vision along with their capability to view letters that did not strongly contrast with their backgrounds.

The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal, JAMA Ophthalmology. It was based on data from a 2021 nationally representative study of older adults that the U-M Institute for Social Research conducted.

Scientists measured participants’ memory and ability to think. Participants also provided medical information, including an already existing dementia diagnosis.

A little over 12% of the sample group had dementia, while that percentage was higher among the people who had problems seeing close-up — almost 22%.

One-third of the group with moderate or severe distance vision problems and 26% of the people who had problems seeing letters that did not strongly contrast with their backgrounds demonstrated signs of dementia. Nineteen percent of those in the sample group with a mild distance eyesight problem had dementia.

After adjusting for other differences in medical status and personal attributes, researchers found people with moderate to severe distance eyesight problems were 72% more likely to have dementia than people without vision issues. People with at least two vision issues were 35% more likely than people with normal vision to have dementia.

So, what should you do to try and preserve both your eyesight and cognitive ability? Get regular eye checkups and wear your prescribed glasses or contacts.

“Prioritizing vision health may be key to optimizing both sight and overall health and well-being. Randomized trials are warranted to determine whether optimizing vision is a viable strategy to slow cognitive decline and reduce dementia risk,” the study authors wrote.

Another helpful idea is to understand what dementia is.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dementia is not actually a specific disease. It’s a generalized term for difficulty thinking, remembering, or making everyday decisions. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Although signs may vary from person to person due to the generalization of dementia, typical symptoms or signs include but are not limited to: problems with memory, attention, communication, reasoning, judgment, problem-solving, and vision problems.

In an editorial accompanying the Michigan Medicine study, Sheila West, an ophthalmologist with the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, also recommended a way to potentially help prevent dementia across the board.

“Equitable access to vision care services that prevent, reverse, or at least stave off progression of loss of sight is a worthy goal regardless of the potential impact on dementia and may be especially critical for those experiencing cognitive decline.”