Can Bad Vision Shorten Your Life?
The loss of vision can affect how long you live, according to a recent study. This means that if you suffer from cataracts or age-related macular degeneration, there is an increased likelihood that you will die sooner than later. That’s the bad news. The good news is that these visual impairments are addressable to a considerable degree, and therefore, presumably, taking care of your eyes may enable you to prolong your life.
Cataracts are opacities that develop in the crystalline lens of the eye resulting in diminished vision. Age-related macular degeneration is a medical condition in which the center of the inner lining of the eye, known as the macula area of the retina, thins out, atrophies, and in some cases bleeds. The result is the loss of central vision with reduced ability to see details, to read, and even to distinguish faces.
While there have been other studies showing a correlation between visual impairment and mortality, the results have lacked consistency. So drawing upon a group of people already involved in a long-term eye-health study, “The Blue Mountain Eye Study”, Australian scientists set out to establish any correspondences they could discover.
Following 3,654 people over the age of 49 for a period of 11 years, Sudha Cugati of the University of Sydney and fellow researchers found that 54% of those with any type of visual impairment died, compared to only 34% of those with normal eyesight.
When the impairments were examined separately, age-related macular degeneration was associated with the highest death rate, 45.8 percent. In a comparison group without any eye impairments, only 33.7 percent died during the same period. The death rate for those with cataracts was 39.2 percent during the study’s follow-up period, compared to 29.5 percent for of those with no cataracts. Even after statistical techniques were used to adjust for other factors that could increase the risk of death, there was still a clear correspondence to increased mortality This was especially true for cataracts, for which the death rate remained significant, However, for macular degeneration, the increased risk of mortality remained comparatively high only for people younger than 75.
In the words of the authors: “This is an important finding given that a major proportion of visual impairment is due to treatable causes. In the older group, it could be likely that other age-related conditions dominate the effect on mortality.” These might include dysfunctions that cause disability, depression, and loss of independence.
For those with cataracts, surgery lessened the increased risk of dying during the study follow-up. While other factors might be involved, such as an increased level of overall care and the adoption of a healthier lifestyle, this might indicate that vision loss itself is the culprit and measures and interventions to correct visual impairments in the elderly might thwart increased mortality.
- Cugati S, Cumming RG, SmithW, Burlutsky G, Mitchell P, Wang JJ. Visual impairment, age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and long-term mortality. Arch Ophthalmol July 2007;125(7):917-24.