It seems that almost all my friends are needing cataract surgery. And that’s probably a good thing. Because studies are indicating that cataracts increase your risk of developing dementia.
What is cataract surgery?
Nine in ten people develop cataracts by the time they’re 65, and an estimated 2 million (mostly older) Americans get cataract surgery every year.
A cataract is an opacification or clouding of the natural lens of the eye. The surgery involves the removal of the lens and replacement with an intraocular lens or artificial replacement for the lens of your eye. It’s considered one of the safest, most effective, and most common procedures performed today.
Research shows a link between vision loss and dementia
A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed the relationship between cataract surgery and the risk of developing dementia. The researchers discovered that people who had cataract surgery had a 29 percent lower risk of developing dementia when compared to people who didn’t have the surgery. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34870676/
The research also found that glaucoma did not affect the risk of dementia.
How does cataract removal protect brain health?
- Cataracts can reduce vision, which may lead to depression. Depression is a risk factor for dementia.
- One study found that the integrity of the eye is essential for the structure and function of the brain. “Cataract patients often present with accelerated age-related decreases in brain function, but the underlying mechanisms are still unclear.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29548900/ Vision impairment can lead to reduced sensory input to the brain, and this leads to less brain stimulation and loss of brain function.
- People who have vision loss may be less engaged in physical activity and social interaction. This can lead to an increased risk of dementia.
Ways to help prevent cataracts
- Eat a Mediterranean-based diet including foods that are high in vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin. Low levels of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with cataracts, whereas higher levels help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids and are found in spinach, Swiss chard, kale, parsley, pistachios, green peas, egg yolks, sweet corn, and red grapes. They are best absorbed when eaten with a healthy fat such as olive oil or avocado.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays.
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases the free radicals superoxide and hydroxyl radicals that damage the lipids and proteins in the eyes. This causes deposits to form on the lens of the eyes and leads to cataract formation.
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts.
- Restrict consumption of alcohol, which can increase the risk of cataracts by increasing the body’s inflammatory response, free radical production in the eyes, and dehydration. Dehydration affects the proteins in the lens of your eyes.
- Get regular eye exams.
Get more bang for your buck
If your eye doctor is suggesting that you have surgery to remove cataracts, do it sooner than later. Because cataract surgery will not only sharpen your vision, it may very well sharpen your mind.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: TheCaregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.