As people age, many notice changes in their vision. They may need help with reading or clearly seeing people and objects. About 12 million Americans ages 40 and older have vision impairment, sometimes called low vision. Prescription eyewear can help people see better, but vision impairment can lead to more serious problems.
Research shows that low vision and eye diseases also can cause dementia. People with dementia may experience problems with memory and thinking. Here are three things to know about how eye diseases and vision impairment can cause dementia in seniors.
1. Understanding dementia – Loss of memory, thinking and social abilities are common symptoms of dementia. Scientists believe some diseases, such as Alzheimer’s for example, can cause dementia. Although there is no known cure for dementia, there are things people can do to slow the progression.
2. Link to vision impairment – The eyes and brain work together to interpret people and objects. The eyes see something and send signals on nerve pathways to the brain. The brain interprets the signals and identifies the people and objects. However, researchers recently found links between vision impairment and dementia in adults over age 70.
Vision changes caused by eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetes and glaucoma, can change or slow down the signals sent to the brain. If signals get too slow to the brain, vision may be impaired. This can impact how well people see when driving or spending time with others. They also may lose interest in reading or participating in activities, such as puzzles or games, which challenge the brain.
3. Steps for improvement – Medical professionals say there are no treatment options to cure dementia. However, there are several things people can do to protect their vision and, hopefully, reduce the development of dementia. Consider these six ideas:
- Schedule yearly vision checkups. Seeing an eye doctor annually can help seniors maintain healthy vision. During the eye exam, there are a series of vision and eye health tests that check for potential vision problems and identify vision correction needs. This includes looking for signs of medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Learn how individual vision insurance can help seniors protect their vision.
- Eat nutritiously. Choose foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, C and E that boost eye health. Here are some good options:
- dark, leafy greens
- carrots, sweet potatoes
- red peppers, tomatoes
- cantaloupe, oranges, apricots
- blueberries, strawberries, raspberries
- Stop smoking. Using tobacco products and vaping can increase the risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Scientists say that even exposure to second-hand smoke can harm the eyes. Smokers who quit can improve their eye health by reducing the risk of developing diabetes, stroke and heart disease, which can lead to dementia.
- Limit alcohol. Medical professionals encourage people to reduce alcohol consumption. Drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks daily can increase the risk of developing cataracts.
- Stay active. Research shows that depression can impact people’s vision. During bouts of depression, people can become stressed and anxious. Stress can cause pupils in the eyes to over-dilate, increasing sensitivity to light and reducing the ability to see details clearly.
- Wear sunglasses. When spending time outdoors, protect eyes from the sun (even when it’s cloudy) to guard against the formation of cataracts. Wear safety glasses when working with machinery and any time the eyes could be compromised, such as during sports.