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Poor eye sight in old age drives cognitive decline  

Poor eye sight in old age drives cognitive decline due to a lack of brain stimulation, study finds

  • Reduced vision and mental sharpness can cause a loss of independence
  • Sufferers may be less able to participate in activities, lowering their stimulation
  • Cognitive decline and vision may both be caused by inflammation  
  • Impairment without dementia affects 5.4 million adults in their 70s in the US 
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Poor eye sight in old age drives cognitive decline in older people, new research suggests.

Both vision and mental sharpness decrease with age, which can cause a loss of independence and a reduced quality of life in sufferers, a US study found today.

Researchers believe poor vision reduces people’s abilities to participate in activities, leading to reduced brain stimulation.

Another theory is cognitive decline and vision loss may both be caused by inflammation or deterioration of the central nervous system. 

Cognitive impairment without dementia affects around 5.4 million adults in their 70s in the US, while more than 2.9 million suffer reduced vision. 

Poor eye sight in old age drives cognitive decline in older people (stock)

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A pioneering eye patch improves vision in people with severe age-related sight loss, research suggested in April 2018.

When implanted at the back of the eye of people suffering from dry macular degeneration, all experienced improved or stabilised vision, a study found.

One woman, aged 69, was even able to read 24 letters on an eye chart after having the device fitted, compared to just seven before, the research adds.

The device involves placing a wafer-thin patch coated with healthy embryonic retinal cells on the tissue near the optic nerve, which sends impulses to the brain where images are formed.

Dry macular degeneration affects around 1.75 million people in the US alone and causes reduced central vision due to thinning of the part of the retina responsible for people’s direct line of sight. 

The researchers, from the University of Southern California, placed the patch, measuring 6x4mm, on the retinas of four people with advanced dry macular degeneration.

Each of the participants only had one eye tested, while the other served as a control.

One year on, the patch stabilised the disease in all of the participants’ treated eyes, while those that had not received the patch continued to deteriorate.

Two of the participants were better able to maintain their vision on a single object a year after the implant was fitted.

The researchers believe their findings suggest the patch improves the vision of people with severe age-related dry macular degeneration, at least in the short term.

They plan to conduct a larger trial that tests the device on patients at an earlier stage of the disease. 

How the research was carried out 

The researchers, from the University of Miami, analysed 2,520 people aged between 65 and 84 from Salisbury, Maryland.

The participants were followed for eight years. More than half of them died during the study’s duration.  

Their eye sight and mental state was assessed four times, on average every two years, during the investigation.

Mental state was determined by their ability to orientate themselves to a time and place, their attention span, language understanding and ability to recall three words. 

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology. 

Poor people are 50% more likely to develop dementia 

This comes after research released last May suggested poor people are more likely to develop dementia.

The 20 per cent most deprived adults in England are 50 per cent more likely to suffer from severe memory loss than the wealthiest 20 per cent, a study found.

Study author Professor Andrew Steptoe, from University College London, said: ‘Our study confirms that the risk of dementia is reduced among well-off older people compared with those who have fewer economic resources.

‘Many factors could be involved. Differences in healthy lifestyle and medical risk factors are relevant.

‘It may also be that better off people have greater social and cultural opportunities that allow them to remain actively engaged with the world.’

Study author Dr Dorina Cadar added: ‘Dementia is a progressive neurodegenerative condition with devastating consequences to individuals, their families and governments around the world.

‘Our efforts are unified in identifying the risk factors associated with a delay in the onset of dementia or a slower progression.’

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