For many older Americans, talking about dementia can be hard or scary. Some risks for dementia are of course, beyond our control (things like genetics or family history), but some factors center around lifestyle changes. Although no approaches have been proven to treat Alzheimer’s or dementia, steps can be taken to live a healthy life and reduce your risk. For example, one of the newer approaches to reducing your risk for dementia is maintaining healthy eye health.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a generalized term for the loss of skills such as language, problem-solving, and memory. When the loss of these skills interferes with daily life, they are defined as dementia. It’s imperative to remember that dementia is not one single disease, but rather a term covering a wide range of medical conditions. Dementia can affect behavior and feelings, and can negatively impact relationships. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which makes up 60-80% of dementia cases, followed by vascular dementia (caused by bleeding or vessel blockage in the brain). There are also some cases of mixed dementia, which have more than one cause. In some cases, the symptoms that mimic dementia are signs of reversible disorders, like thyroid problems. Sometimes, dementia is referred to as “senile dementia”, which can be misleading because it fuels the idea that serious mental decline is expected. Here are some signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with dementia:
- Challenges with short-term memory
- Trouble keeping track of purse, wallet, or other essential items
- Forgetting to pay bills.
- Remembering appointments
- Getting lost frequently, or forgetting locations in your own neighborhood
- Impaired judgment
- Sudden changes in mood or personality
- How are Neurological Diseases Connected to the Eye?
You may be wondering what a neurological disorder has to do with your eyesight. Research has indicated that diseases and conditions that relate to the brain often affect the eye, because the optic nerve and retina are actually brain tissue that extends beyond the perimeter of the brain. Interestingly enough, both Alzheimers and dementia appear to have negative effects on the retina. Although there are no clear testing strategies that can predict dementia solely from eyesight, there are many new, promising studies that are building new connections between the two.
One of the most exciting studies that have been published this year reports that close to 100,000 cases of dementia were linked to poor eyesight (again, this is not the sole cause of dementia, but an associated risk factor). The 2018 Health and Retirement study found that patients who had corrective cataract surgery had lowered their risk of dementia by 30%. The model for this study looked at twelve modifiable risk factors
including obesity and smoking, and found that vision impairment impacted a significant portion.
How Can I Reduce My Risk?
Knowing that eye care impacts the risk for dementia and other neurological disorders is interesting, but putting this into practice is the essential step. Here are some steps that you can take today to reduce this modifiable risk factor:
Be specific: When explaining vision changes or updates to your eye doctor, remember to keep clear records whenever possible. A small journal or notebook can be useful in recording struggles or challenges with your eyes. Share these notes with your eye doctor, and takes notes during your exam so you don’t forget crucial details.
Keep your yearly or recommended appointments: We know schedules can be quite busy, but here at Medical Eye Center, we help you find the dates that work best for you and your lifestyle. Prioritize your eye exams at the recommended frequency (you can ask your doctor what’s best for you) and remember that regular check-ups can help your eye care provider see any changes or concerns.
If you’ve been considering cataract surgery, make an appointment: Our expert staff is one of the valley’s most reputable when it comes to cataract surgery. Since cataract surgeries are linked positively to reduced dementia risk, it’s essential to take care of the signs and symptoms of cataracts as you age. Unfortunately, 50% of older Americans (over age 80) will struggle with cataracts in their lifetime, so it’s best to be prepared.
We understand that dementia and Alzheimers can be hard to talk about, but our experienced team is here to listen. If you or someone you love struggles with their memory or a related condition, regular eye care should be a top priority for you or your loved one. Whether you are unsure where to start or need support along the way, we are here to help. Call today to make your appointment with our caring team.