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People Who Have Cataracts Removed are 30 Percent Less Likely to Develop Dementia

January 10, 2022

(WAPO)~Older people who have cataracts removed may be gaining more than better vision. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that they are nearly 30 percent less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, than are people with cataracts who do not have the surgery.

The key, the researchers say, may be the restoration of vision that comes with cataract surgery. The finding stems from data on 3,038 people 65 and older who were dementia-free at the start of the study and were tracked for nearly 10 years after their decision on eye surgery.

The researchers noted that visual impairment has been identified as a dementia risk factor, in part because it can lead to social isolation and decreased cognitive stimulation. But by restoring vision, they wrote, cataract surgery may help delay or prevent the development of dementia.

The only treatment is surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial lens (called an intraocular lens), which restores vision. More than 24 million U.S. residents have cataracts, and nearly half of people who are 80 either have cataracts or have had surgery to remove them. About 24.5 million people in the United States have cataracts, a vision-blurring cloudy spot on the lens of the eye.

When to consider surgery

Signs that you may have cataracts or that existing cataracts are worsening can be subtle. They include increasing difficulty seeing well at night (especially when facing an oncoming car’s headlights), having to make the text on your computer screen larger and sensing that colors are fading.

When might cataract surgery be appropriate? If vision problems are affecting activities such as reading or driving, consider seeing an ophthalmologist to discuss cataract surgery.

What to expect before surgery

If you and the ophthalmologist agree that you’d benefit from surgery, the doctor will give you a thorough eye exam.

You’ll also choose new lenses before cataract surgery. Standard monofocal lenses, which usually help with distance vision, are often included in the price of surgery and provide excellent clarity.

Multifocal lenses, which can help with near and far vision, may eliminate the need for eyeglasses but can cost more than $2,000 an eye out of pocket.

During surgery and after

Cataract surgery is usually done at outpatient surgical centers, but some eye surgeons do the procedure in a hospital or private medical office.

Most people receive a light sedative and an anesthetic to numb the eye, Devgan says. The surgery takes less than 30 minutes, and you should have improved vision the day after. (For surgery on both eyes, the procedures are often performed several weeks apart.)

Because the sedation may leave you groggy, you’ll need a ride home and should take it easy for at least a few hours.

Cut complication risks

Overall, the likelihood of complications after cataract surgery is low around 1 percent of cataract surgery patients have some temporary vision loss from macular edema (eye swelling), and less than 1 percent develop an eye infection.