Vision and Memory Loss

Imagine that you’re a 75-year-old woman living in a small house with your 78-year-old husband.  You’ve been keeping the house for your husband all your married lives while he worked to support your family.  Now you’re retired and while you traveled some in your early retirement, both of you are tiring more easily and generally stay closer to home now.

Recently you’ve noticed your husband hasn’t been interested in doing the morning crossword or reading his beloved mystery novels, and you have to work harder to coax him to go out for your evening walk.  He used to like puttering in the yard but this year the shrubs are a bit overgrown and he forgets to put out the birdseed and shoo the squirrels away from the feeder.  What’s going on?

If you said he is depressed, you might be right.  He may also have early dementia.  However, when you take him to the doctor to address these concerns, please make sure the doctor does a quick vision and hearing screen too.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that vision loss is associated with a 2-3 times increased risk of cognitive dysfunction or dementia.

We know that children have trouble learning if they can’t see properly.  One important thing we as parents can do is make sure our children get their vision checked regularly.  Turns out it’s as important for us to make sure our PARENTS are getting to the eye doctor too!

Vision loss is unfortunately quite common in older adults.  Macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma become more common with older age.  Vision loss can come on gradually and be difficult to identify without regular eye exam.

Vision loss contributes to cognitive dysfunction by decreasing stimulation to the brain.  Adults with vision loss may be more cautious about (or frankly afraid of) travel or participating in more adventurous activities.  Also, vision loss makes activities known to protect cognitive function (like reading, doing puzzles and working with the hands) less enjoyable.

There are also nutrients that can help protect vision.  First, it is important to eat leafy green vegetables regularly.  These are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin which may protect against the development of macular degeneration. 

Taking an eye health supplement in addition to a multivitamin may be helpful if a doctor identifies early signs of macular degeneration on exam.  A specific brand may be recommended by the doctor.

If you have older adults in your life, please make sure they are seeing the eye doctor regularly and maintaining their vision.  It makes a huge difference in quality of life and is likely to protect them from memory loss.

QUESTION: Do you have an older adult in your life with vision loss?  How has it affected them?

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