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Poor eyesight in old age linked to cognitive decline

Poor eyesight in old age linked to cognitive decline
29th June 2018

Declining eyesight is an issue for many elderly people and, while not being able to see properly causes a detrimental effect in itself, it could have more far reaching consequences. Poor vision can lead to a lack of stimulation and therefore a loss in cognitive capacity, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Miami have looked into the deterioration of quality of life as people age. They believe that as eyesight becomes worse, patients are unable to join in with activities and therefore their brain function goes into decline.

The link between the two areas could be more intrinsic, however, with cognitive decline and vision loss both being caused by inflammation or deterioration of the central nervous system. Whatever the cause, it seems the two conditions are linked, making problems with sight something families should look out for in their elderly relatives.

In the recent study, scientists analysed 2,520 people with an age range of 65 to 84. The individuals were monitored for eight years, although more than half of them died during the research’s timeframe.

Assessments into the state of each patient’s eyesight and mental capacity were taken on average every two years. The ability to orientate themselves in a place and time, their attention span, understanding of language and recollection of three words were used to check their mental state.

Eyesight is just one of the factors that has been linked to mental decline and can lead onto neurodegenerative conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Earlier research suggests that people from a poorer background are 50 per cent more likely to develop dementia than their richer counterparts.

Professor Andrew Steptoe, author of the study from University College London, said: “Our study confirms that the risk of dementia is reduced among well-off older people compared with those who have fewer economic resources.

“Many factors could be involved. Differences in healthy lifestyle and medical risk factors are relevant. It may also be that better off people have greater social and cultural opportunities that allow them to remain actively engaged with the world.”

Since there is currently no cure for dementia and treatment options focus on slowing down its onset, preventative measures are the best way to tackle the condition. There are many theories as to the best way to achieve this, but a healthy diet and exercise are seen as key.

Study author Dr Dorina Cadar added: “Dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative condition with devastating consequences to individuals, their families and governments around the world. Our efforts are unified in identifying the risk factors associated with a delay in the onset of dementia or a slower progression.”

The Alzheimer’s Society predicts that more than one million people will be living with dementia in the UK by 2025. If things continue along the current trajectory, then this figure is likely to rise to two million by the year 2051.

While scientists race to find a cure, individuals can do what they can to keep healthy and their minds active. Starting earlier in life is thought to improve the outlook, but relatives can also help to stimulate the brains of the elderly and look out for early warning signs.