Eye Trouble Linked to Low Thinking Scores for Seniors

Eye Trouble Linked to Low Thinking Scores for Seniors

Seniors can be misdiagnosed with mental decline when they have poor vision
Read Time: 3 minutes
Oct 31, 2022

There are many side-effects that can occur as a result of poor vision. You can’t read as well. It’s easier to trip and fall, which is especially hazardous for senior citizens. On top of that, it can also lead to a misdiagnosis of mental decline.

How Does Poor Vision Cause a Mental Decline Misdiagnosis?

Many of the tests that are meant to examine a senior’s thinking abilities are vision-dependent. If someone taking the test has undiagnosed vision problems, then they won’t be able to see very well, which could hinder their scores. If the doctor is unaware of the vision problems, they may ascribe the lower scores to actual mental decline instead of difficulty seeing the test.

How Common Are Undiagnosed Vision Problems?

Because vision naturally declines as we age, poor vision is almost guaranteed for seniors. Almost 1 in 4 who are over the age of 50 have an undiagnosed vision issue, often because they haven’t had their eyes tested for it. Common vision problems that go undiagnosed are cataracts and AMD.

What Are Cataracts?

an elderly man with cataracts in one eye

Cataracts can occur when proteins build up over the eye’s lens. They appear to be cloudiness over the eye, but many might not even realize that they have them. This is because they can form gradually over time and slowly start to impact vision, causing blurriness and difficulty seeing.

What Is AMD?

a graphic comparing a normal eye to an eye with macular degeneration

AMD stands for age-related macular degeneration. It’s actually the most common cause of vision loss in those who are older. In AMD, the macula wears down over time. The macula is the central part of the retina, which is the part of the eye that senses light. As the macula degenerates, vision loss occurs. Unfortunately, vision loss due to AMD is permanent and irreversible.

How Can Vision Loss Be Mistaken for Mental Decline?

Vision loss doesn’t actually cause mental decline, but it can be mistaken for it. This is because vision loss can impair someone’s ability to read, drive, cook, and perform other daily tasks. Mental decline can similarly impair those same activities. Unless vision problems have been diagnosed, it may be difficult for others to tell the difference in someone elderly, since vision problems and mental decline can both be common with old age.

How Many Seniors Are Affected by Vision Problems?

Hundres of millions of people suffer from vision problems as they age. About 11% of adults do end up suffering from mental decline as they age, but about 27% will have some type of vision problem. Vision problems are more common than mental decline as part of aging.

How Can a Misdiagnosis Affect Someone’s Life?

It’s important for cognitive tests to accurately determine someone’s thinking abilities. If someone with poor vision is misdiagnosed as having mental decline, no matter how mild, they could develop psychological difficulties like depression or or anxiety. On top of that, poor scores on a cognitive test could also lead to changes being made unnecessarily to the circumstances of their work, social life, living arrangements, and finances.

How Was Poor Vision Linked to Misdiagnosed Mental Decline?

A study was done in which participants with normal vision were given two cognitive tests: one was visual and the other was verbal. Researchers administered the tests twice: once normally and once with goggles designed to simulate age-related macular degeneration. They found that the participants scored similarly with and without the AMD goggles on the verbal cognitive test. However, on the visual test, they scored significantly lower when wearing the AMD goggles.

What Does This Mean for Doctors and Patients?

a doctor giving an elderly man a vision test

Visual problems, despite their prevalence, are often overlooked. Doctors administering cognitive tests should start screening for vision problems before having a patient take the test in order to rule out poor vision as the reason for a low score.

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