Vision is one of the sensory enablers of interpersonal connection, information processing, decision-making, and independence; therefore, researchers are increasingly looking to vision loss as a potential risk factor for cognitive decline in elderly adults. A 2019 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that subjective cognitive decline, including frequent or worsening confusion or memory loss, affected over 11% of adults aged 45 years and up with 18% of adults having a vision impairment.
Maintaining healthy vision in the aging process can play a role in protecting cognition and avoiding the associated consequences of decreased quality of life, disability, social isolation, depression, loss of memory, and declining health status. Older adults may face a compounding risk in health status stemming from inability to adapt mentally and emotionally to changes in vision, leading to distress, anxiety, or depression that may cause them to disengage from physical activity (which could lead to chronic illness) and social connection and worsen cognitive health. Older adults who lack strong community or social support networks may become increasingly lonely or socially isolated, which can have a bi-directional effect on physical, mental, and cognitive health. As our population continues to age, staying ahead of cognitive decline has become part of research efforts to determine whether early response to cognitive decline can be achieved through vision and eye health prevention, health promotion through public education and awareness of risk factors, and treatment.
Emerging initial evidence of the link between vision impairment and cognitive decline underscores the need for continued federal investments in research at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health to verify the link between cognitive decline and vision health and determine its causes. Changes in visual status and function due to the impacts to one’s quality of life and life satisfaction have cost implications that policymakers should consider to decrease the overall burden of declining health in elderly populations. Prevent Blindness will continue to support these investments as part of a broad strategy that emphasizes early detection, intervention, and treatment of vision problems in both non-elderly and elderly populations.