Adults who struggle with low vision, whether due to cataracts, glaucoma or other age-related eye diseases, often experience difficulty communicating with others and engaging with their surroundings; two important factors for staying mentally sharp.

There are various surgeries and treatments available to alleviate these conditions, but the benefits of each procedure or prescription must be weighed against the drawbacks, especially when addressing visual impairment in people of advanced age.

Can Cataract Surgery Delay Cognitive Decline?

A group of Case Western Reserve University researchers recently added a potential advantage of cataract surgery for people with dementia: a slow down in cognitive decline.

Study participants were assigned to one of two groups. The first group immediately underwent surgery for cataract removal, while individuals in the other group either refused surgery or chose to postpone their treatment. Baseline evaluations of participants' visual and cognitive status were conducted at the beginning of the study (prior to surgery). These evaluations were repeated six months later.

From the beginning, the cognitive status of the two groups was described as "quite impaired." But, by the end, those who'd had cataract surgery saw a small improvement in their mental state scores, while those who opted out of the procedure experienced significant cognitive decline.

Various Benefits of Cataract Surgery

Another notable finding was that the average psychiatric score (testing for anxiety, confusion, depression, hallucinations, and other issues) of the surgery group decreased significantly, following the procedure.

Cataract surgery is a safe, minimally invasive procedure with a high success rate. The procedure not only helps doctors restore their patients' vision, it can also improve cognitive function, slow the progression of memory loss and benefit family caregivers.

The Case Western study found that, in addition to the benefits that the patients experienced following corrective surgery, their caregivers reported decreased levels of burden and stress—a win-win for all involved.

Unlike most procedures, age should not be a limiting factor in determining whether someone is a candidate for cataract surgery. The average age of the Case Western study group who had cataract-correcting surgery was approximately 84 years, and all of them reported considerably improved vision following surgery.

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Be aware that pursuing cataract treatment for an older individual can be tricky, especially if they have Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Doctors are wary of operating on people with cognitive impairment, since such procedures can be more complicated and stressful for the patient.