A University of Michigan study finds a link between vision and Alzheimer’s. The study was based on medical information and surveys from 625 people compiled from 1992-2005. None of these individuals had dementia at the beginning of the study. Using a scale ranking vision from excellent (one) to totally blind (six), researchers found that the risk for dementia increased by an average of 52 percent with each step up the scale. The study’s lead author, Mary A.M. Rogers, PhD, said the study’s results suggest that problems with declining vision precedes dementia and that treatment of vision problems, including proper prescription eyeglasses, cataract removal and lens insertion, corneal transplant and treatment for retinal detachment, lesions and other eye disorders, decreases the probability of developing dementia.
Why this link between vision and dementia? Dr. Rogers suggests that people with poor vision may be less likely to participate in the kinds of activities that protect cognitive function, such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games and engaging in physical activities. She also said that other research indicates that vision loss can lead to structural changes in the brain, but notes that more studies are needed to understand why.
Meanwhile, as a result of a different study, University College London researchers are linking the retina with the brain and suggesting that the condition of retina cells can potentially predict the onset of Alzheimer’s. They have found that damage to and death of cells in the retina mimics the same degeneration of brain cells. While the technique they’ve developed for monitoring retina cell death has only been tested on animals, they plan to have initial patient trials in late 2010. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is critical in order to stop and reverse the cell death before it is too late.
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology researcher, Professor Francesca Cordeiro, says “Few people realize that the retina is a direct, albeit thin, extension of the brain. It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to a high-street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain.”
Both studies suggest the importance of eye care and timely treatment of eye disease as we age.