Vision, Memory and Cognitive Decline are Associated in the Elderly

A study done by Johns Hopkins University makes a promising discovery- elderly people with vision loss are more likely to suffer from cognitive decline.  If this data is confirmed, we can look forward to more focused and functional pharmacological care, both in terms of prevention and treatment.

The advance of cognitive decline

It is common knowledge that the elderly population has progressively increased and that maximum life expectancy has risen significantly over the years. Yet not everyone knows the statistics, which are quite impressive. The number of people between the ages of 65 and 74 years of age is eight times greater than at the beginning of the previous century and there are 24 times more people over 85. Future estimates are even more concerning. Between 2000 and 2050, the percentage of the world population that is over 60 will double from 11 to 22%. This is why the problem of cognitive decline, typically associated with ageing, is becoming a central point in research.

Cognitive decline is associate with:

  • Neuroinflammation
  • Nerve cell deterioration
  • Reduced neurogenesis in hippocampus

The following cognitive functions are impaired and weakened:

  • Overall attention span
  • Learning and memory skills
  • Task implementation
  • Language skills
  • Perceptual-motor skills

Cognitive decline develops in three stages that progressively worsen:

  • Age- primarily affects people over 65.
  • MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment)- a neurological pathology that appears when mental abilities are impaired, but not to the extent to interfere with normal daily activities.
  • Dementia- a gradual decline in cognitive functions attributed to an organic mental disorder that progressively interferes with daily life.  It is an irreversible and degenerative disease. Alzheimer’s is the most frequent form of dementia among the older population (54%), followed by Lewy Body Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.

The Study

The study was coordinated by Bonnielin Swenor of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The findings were presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) annual meeting and demonstrate that subjective memory complaints (SMC) can help physicians evaluate cognitive decline in elderly patients with vision impairment.

Researchers used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to examine the prevalence of SMC in older people with visual impairment. The research team analyzed data from nearly 5,800 individuals between 60 and 90 years old.  The findings reveal that the people in the group of patients with vision problems, particularly women, were significantly older than in the group without vision problems.  More specifically:

  • Patients 60 and over- 22% of the group with vision problems reported SMC, compared to 11% in the group without vision problems.
  • Patients between 60 and 79 reported similar SMC rates in both groups, but 30% of patients over 80 with vision problems reported SMC compared to 19% of those without vision problems.

“Our study”, explains Swenor, “found a high prevalence of subjective memory complaints in older adults with visual impairment compared to individuals without visual impairment… Inquiring about subjective memory complaints may give clinicians insight into a patient’s awareness and perception of cognitive health, allowing ophthalmologists and other providers to give more individualized advice regarding health promotion and medication adherence.”

© Domedica s.r.l.

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