Vision Loss Linked with Risk for Dementia

Society has learned first-hand just how detrimental social isolation is to mental health and overall well-being.  Older adults who are hearing impaired can often become isolated and experience loneliness which can contribute to cognitive decline.  New research also finds a connection between age-related vision loss and an increased risk of developing dementia. 

According to a recent Neuroscience News feature, sight impairment in adults over the age of 71 could be a risk factor for developing cognitive decline and dementia.  A new study, using data gathered from nearly 3,000 American participants as part of the National Health and Aging Trends Study, linked the prevalence of dementia with sight loss. 

Currently, vision impairment is not considered an established risk factor for dementia, but the findings of the study suggest it may be a modifiable risk factor.  In about 40 percent of dementia cases, modifiable factors such as smoking, controlling high blood pressure or treating hearing loss can help prevent cognitive decline.  Research suggests that vision loss may be connected to memory decline because of shared pathways in the brain or due to health conditions like diabetes that can lead to both vision problems and dementia. 

Although more study is required to determine the exact cause of the link between vision loss and dementia, researchers are hopeful about the potential for prevention.  Taking steps to prevent and treat sight loss, and hearing, in older age can not only help seniors stay more active and socially engaged, it may also help reduce the risk for cognitive decline, memory loss, and dementia.  Staying physically active, learning new skills, and maintaining strong social connections are also critical to help protect brain health. 

The risk of developing eye diseases and conditions increases in older age.  Regular eye exams help keep the eyes as healthy as possible, and problems can be caught early.  Everyone over the age of 50 should have a dilated eye exam each year, even if you don’t wear glasses or contacts, according to the National Institute on Aging.