Elderly men and women with mild Alzheimer’s disease and cataracts can benefit from cataract surgery, a new report shows. The surgery led to improvements in thinking, sounder sleep, better mood and other benefits.
"We wanted to learn whether significant vision improvement would result in positive mood and behavior changes, or might instead upset these patients' fragile coping strategies," said Dr. Brigitte Girard, the lead author of the study and a researcher at Tenon Hospital in Paris, France. Surgery produced improvements in many of the patients studied.
The findings are important, since cataracts, which cloud the lens in the eye, are very common in older people. With the advance of lasers and other technologies, cataract surgery has become a relatively simple procedure that can produce dramatic improvements in vision. The results underline the importance of good vision and medical care for anyone with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study is the first to address whether cataract surgery is helpful specifically for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Earlier studies have shown that older people in general show improvements in thinking and mood after cataract surgery to correct vision loss.
For the study, the researchers enrolled 38 men and women with mild Alzheimer’s disease whose average age was 85. All of the study participants had cataracts in at least one eye that severely impaired their vision.
All underwent cataract surgery, involving removal of the faulty lens and replacement with a new, clear lens. After the surgery, all but one of the patients showed dramatic improvements in their vision.
They were also assessed for psychological and cognitive health one month and three months after the surgery. One in four patients showed improvements in thinking and memory skills. Many also showed an easing of symptoms of depression. They did not, however, show improvements in day-to-day functioning.
Most of the participants also slept better after the surgery. They also had fewer nighttime outbursts and behavior problems, a common problem in people with Alzheimer’s.
The researchers speculate that the improved sleep may be due to better processing of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep. Other studies have shown that cataract surgery can improve melatonin levels.
"In future studies we intend to learn what factors, specifically, led to the positive effects we found, so that we can boost the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients, their families and caregivers," Dr. Girard said. The findings were reported at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's 2011 Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Source: The 115th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Oct. 23 to 25, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.