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Importance of Having an Eye Exam to Prevent Dementia

Posted on: January 29th, 2024 by Our Team

As the population ages, Dementia cases are also on the rise.  Despite high hopes for the launch of a new Alzehimer’s medication called Crenezumab, unfortunately, it has proven to be ineffective in clinical trials.  Researchers are advocating there needs to be a concurrent focus on eliminating already known risk factors such as untreated high blood pressure, hearing loss and smoking, rather than simply the continued efforts to develop a new drug.  According to Dr. Julio Rojas, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, by focusing on behaviors that are widely available and evidenced, “We are changing how we understand the way dementia develops.”

Vision impairment recently was identified as a modifiable risk factor in a study published in JAMA Neurology.  Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, the researchers estimated that about 62% of current dementia cases could have been prevented across risk factors and that 1.8 %, or about 100,000 cases could have been prevented through healthy vision.

Although it is a relatively small percentage, according to Dr. Joshua Ehrlich, an Ophthalmologist and population health researcher at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author, it represents a comparatively easy fix.  This is attributable to the fact that eye exams, eyeglass prescriptions and cataract surgery are relatively inexpensive and accessible interventions.  Ehrlich maintains that, “Globally 80 to 90% of vision impairment and blindness is avoidable through early detection and treatment, or has yet to be addressed.”

Why would hearing and vision loss contribute to cognitive decline?  According to Rojas, “A neural system maintains its function through stimulation from sensory organs.  Without that stimulation, there will be a dying out of neurons, a rearrangement of the brain.” It is also noted that hearing and vision loss could also affect cognition by limited older adults’ participation in physical and social activity.  Although there is less clinical data on the connection to impaired vision, there is a study in southern India to see whether providing older adults with eyeglasses affects cognitive decline.

Clearly, there are some important risks for dementia that are beyond one’s control such as genetics, family history and advancing age itself.  Nevertheless modifiable factors such as regular and routine eye exams can have an appreciable impact.  The trepidation associated with developing dementia, loss of memory, your personality and independence is understandable.  But even delaying its onset can have a powerful effect.

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