Elderly people who have cataract surgery reduce their risk of developing dementia by 29 per cent, new research shows. A study carried out by scientists at the University of Washington took more than 3,000 individuals over the age of 65 into account.
The participants were tracked for almost a decade and none of them had the neurodegenerative condition at the beginning of the research. While there was no definitive conclusion as to why the procedure cut the dementia risk, one possibility is that cataracts prevent key cells from receiving blue light, so removing them allows it in.
Experts believe blue light may reactivate cells in the retina that are responsible for cognition and regulating sleep. Those conducting the research did say that further investigation was needed to explore the links between the eyes and dementia, but that the study showed interesting results.
Dr Cecilia Lee, lead researcher, said: “This kind of evidence is as good as it gets in epidemiology. This is really exciting because no other medical intervention has shown such a strong association with lessening dementia risk in older individuals.”
Cataracts are common among older people, who often experience cloudy patches developing on the lens in their eyes. As these patches get bigger, vision becomes blurry and a procedure is required to remove the lens and replace it with a clear artificial one. Cataract surgery has a high success rate and allows individuals to continue to live independently and carry out everyday tasks like driving.
Each year, more than 300,000 cataract operations are carried out in England alone, helping people to see more clearly. Meanwhile, some 850,000 Brits are living with dementia, and while cataracts are not the only contributing factor, this study shows having them removed can improve the chances of avoiding the disease.
The average age of the 3,038 participants in the study was 74 and nearly half (1,382) underwent the 45-minute procedure to have their cataracts removed. While tracking the volunteers for eight years, 853 cases of dementia were detected, with a 29 per cent decrease in risk for those who had undergone the surgery.
During the first five years after the procedure, the risk was found to be at its lowest, with a dementia diagnosis being 32 per cent less likely. This then became a 24 per cent decrease in risk for the subsequent five years.
Not receiving cataract surgery can lead to individuals becoming more socially isolated, as poor vision can be very restrictive. This in turn can lead to a lack of stimulation for the brain and be a contributing factor to developing dementia. Other lifestyle choices, which are known to help prevent cognitive decline, such as regular exercise, can also be difficult when the vision is impaired.
Surgery is the only way for those suffering with cataracts to improve their eyesight. While the recovery time from the procedure varies from two to six weeks, benefits can include seeing things in focus, less glare and being able to differentiate between colours.