Cataracts are one of the most common treatable causes of vision impairment among older adults around the world. Improving vision with cataract surgery has broad implications, from reducing falls to improving cognition. A study published in 2018 looked at the link between familial relationships, social connections and the likelihood older adults will get needed cataract surgery. It was concluded that individuals with close family relationships and a strong social network may be more likely to undergo cataract surgery. Rather interestingly, the family member’s connection to the individual played a significant role…
The research published in JAMA Ophthalmology, ‘Association of Social Support Network Size With Receipt of Cataract Surgery in Older Adults’, positively associates social and familial networks with the likelihood of older adults getting cataract surgery.
The findings may not be too surprising, as not only can family members motivate older adults to take care of their health, but family members can also ensure they receive the care they need. Research author and Ophthalmologist Brian Stagg says, “It may get to a point that it takes people around them to speak up about their changing vision… Family may say, ‘Well, you didn’t used to have problems seeing that.’”
In observations of 9,760 individuals aged 65 and older with Medicare benefits, from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, those with zero, one or two family members had a 40 percent lower probability of receiving cataract surgery than adults with three or more family members.
Although the study, did not directly evaluate the quality of social support, it highlighted that who provides the support may be most important.
The research indicated that spouses, partners and friends did not overly affect the individual’s decision to have cataract surgery. It was adult children who made older adults aware of vision issues.
Researchers propose this is because an aging spouse may make the same adaptations at home or have health issues of their own. But an adult child who visits sporadically might be more likely to notice vision changes in an older parent. Older adults may also be more willing to receive support from an adult child, such as driving them to and from their appointments.
“It doesn’t mean spouses and friends don’t help, but on average they don’t make the same kind of difference as an adult child,” explains Stagg.
This study echoes a trend in health research that examines the impact of social isolation on health. Older adults may be too embarrassed to ask for help from friends, which opens the door for primary care givers and doctors to provide additional support.
“A nuanced understanding of the impact of social support networks is important to develop as we implement strategies to improve access to cataract surgery for a rapidly growing older population,” says Stagg. The study also suggested that patients who don’t have a robust social network can be helped by health care providers to decide when it’s time for them to have cataract surgery. For instance, doctors can ask their patients if they have transportation and support available for the recovery time after the cataract surgery to get an idea of the condition of their social network.
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