Vision Loss May Be a Modifiable Risk for Dementia

Dementia is a difficult, heartbreaking condition to have, and has proved elusive to address. Recently a much-anticipated medication for Alzheimer’s called crenezumab has been added to a long list of dementia-targeting medications that have been proven ineffective in clinical trials.1 

With more and more research, experts are turning to behavioral preventatives rather than prescription solutions. There are many already known risk factors that increase the chance for dementia, including hearing loss, untreated high blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity, depression, high levels of cholesterol, and diabetes.2 

A new risk factor that has now been identified, is vision impairment. According to a New York Times article, researchers have estimated approximately 1.8% of current dementia cases (about 100,000) could have been prevented through healthy vision.1 

But, why? Dr. Rojas, a co-author of an accompanying editorial in JAMA Neurology, explained to the New York Times: “A neural system maintains its function through stimulation from sensory organs… [Without that stimulation,] there will be a dying out of neurons, a rearrangement of the brain.”

This lack of visual or auditory information coming into the brain, plus the restrictive nature of hearing and vision loss (reduced social and physical activity), results in cognition being impacted, leading to a higher risk of developing dementia. 

While our understanding of the connection between vision loss and dementia is relatively new, the link between dementia and hearing loss, another sensory organ, is well established and has been cited by the Lancet Commission as the single most important factor that is a modifiable risk. As both hearing loss and vision loss have a similar effect on cognition, waylaying vision loss may be a significant factor in dementia prevention.  How can you combat vision loss? The first preventative measure is consistently attending annual comprehensive eye exams. Comprehensive eye exams can catch vision loss early in addition to vision issues like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease. 

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