15th May 2024
4 minute read
Categorised under:
Eye Health

Is there any link between cataracts and Dementia?  

Having an eye condition, such as cataracts, can have a negative impact on your vision, your independence, and your overall quality of life. But can it also increase your risk of Dementia? 

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, one in three people born in the UK today will develop Dementia in their lifetime. A report commissioned by the charity found that while there are currently around 900,000 people with Dementia in the UK, this figure is expected to rise to 1.6 million people by 2040. 

The connection between cataracts and dementia 

Experts agree that any visual impairment can be associated with forgetfulness and confusion, known as cognitive decline, which is one aspect of Dementia. A 2024 review of the research on this topic concluded that patients who have had cataract surgery were 25% less likely to experience long-term cognitive decline compared to those with untreated cataracts.

This means that cataract surgery may be associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment and Dementia – which is great news.  

While researchers have yet to conclusively determine why cataract surgery helps to reduce the risk of Dementia, they believe it’s because having the procedure restores vision, with the resulting increased visual stimuli helping patients to enjoy more of their daily activities.  

People who don’t have cataract surgery can struggle with daily activities such as reading and travelling independently which can lead to a reduction in social and physical activities, which in turn contribute to cognitive decline. 

It is important to note, though, that while there may be a link between cataracts and Dementia, it is still not fully understood.  

Can people with dementia have cataract surgery? 

Everyone’s case is individual, but Dementia need not necessarily be a barrier to cataract treatment at SpaMedica. When a referral is made to us for cataract treatment, all patients are invited to a pre-assessment clinic at one of our state-of-the-art eye hospitals. This involves talking to our clinical team about any existing health conditions, such as Dementia, and addressing individual needs. This discussion will determine what treatment options are available, on a personalised basis. Supporting family members are welcome to attend.  

At SpaMedica, we’ve been working with the Alzheimer’s Society for some time to ensure our services are ‘Dementia-friendly. Our Chelmsford hospital was our first to achieve this formal award, which recognises organisations that are improving their services and experience for people with Dementia, their families and carers. 

How we support patients with dementia  

Every SpaMedica staff member completes Dementia training, plus we have dedicated Dementia champions, who undertake more in-depth training at each hospital. 

These champions have implemented several specific changes to help patients with Dementia feel more at ease when they visit us. This has included creating dedicated quiet corners in waiting areas, supplying ‘twiddle squares’ (which give patients something to keep their hands busy, as they often have restless hands) and installing clocks that display the time of day as morning, afternoon, evening or night, because people living with dementia can lose the ability to recognise the passing of time.  

On a daily basis, our teams work exceptionally hard to make each patient feel that their care has been tailored specifically to them. In an ageing population, sadly, Dementia cases will only rise further, and it is vital that we do all we can to help those with Dementia feel safe and comfortable, while offering treatment to improve their sight and ultimately, their quality of life.

What can patients or carers do? 

For patients, the potential link between cataracts and dementia means that it is important to address both conditions and be proactive in seeking regular eye examination and prompt treatment for cataracts.  

In 2023 the Royal College of Ophthalmologists published its guidance on cataract surgery for patients living with Dementia. It states that people with cognitive impairment should receive the same standards of, and access to, healthcare as people without cognitive impairment.  

Its recommendation is that surgery should be considered ‘sooner rather than later’ to ensure opportunities for intervention are not missed.

In Pauline’s words… 

We were recently given a five-star rating on NHS UK by Pauline Robson after treating her husband, who has Dementia. 

“Although I, as my husband’s carer, was not allowed to remain with him during surgery, he was treated very sympathetically,” she says.  

“In fact, the whole experience, from assessment to surgery, was really good. The waiting time from his original eye test with his optometrist to the date for surgery was amazingly short. All the staff were so friendly and helpful, everything was efficiently organised, the premises were spotless, and the equipment impressive. Additionally, on discharge, the instructions were delivered to me directly. Thank you, SpaMedica.” 

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