As an eye doctor, Dr. John Henahan has seen thousands of patients with cataracts over the past 20 years. Many people have the belief that cataract is a disease, according to Dr. Henahan. But, cataract is a clouding of the natural lens in the eye. It is NOT a disease; rather it is a natural part of the aging process. Cataracts can develop at any age, but are most common after the age of 70. Before the 1980’s cataract surgery was a risky procedure that often resulted in less than perfect vision after surgery even with thick glasses.
Advances in cataract surgery
Thankfully, over the past three decades a number of major advances in surgical technique has made cataract surgery one of the most successful surgical procedures ever devised. Smaller incisions in the eye allow most procedures to be done without stitches, as well as minimizing inflammation in the eye. This allows for more rapid visual recovery and reduces the chance of long-term visual problems.
What are the visual benefits of cataract removal?
The main benefit of cataract surgery is the removal of the cloudy lens in the eye with a clear implant lens. These lenses improve vision, which has been documented to substantially improve quality of life for patients.
What is new is that there have been several studies in the past few years that demonstrate other surprising advantages of having cataract surgery.
Life Expectancy benefits of cataract removal
The September 2013 issue of the journal Ophthalmology described the results of a study on patients who had undergone cataract surgery vs those with similar amount of cataract that declined surgery . The key finding was that “timely cataract surgery resulting in enhanced vision was associated with a 40% reduction in mortality risk compared with no surgery.” This suggests that “correcting visual impairment caused by cataracts has health benefits beyond merely improving eyesight.”
Let me stop and let that sink in. Cataract surgery not only improves vision, but is associated with a 40% reduction in DEATH. The study accounted for overall health status to be sure it wasn’t a chance outcome. While it is not entirely clear what the cause of this may be, fewer falls and resultant bone fractures as well as fewer auto accidents may account for part of this reduction.
Cataract surgery and Alzheimer’s Disease
For people with early-stage Alzheimer’s, cataract surgery triggers a huge improvement in quality of life and cognitive abilities. They can read again, recognize friends and family, and navigate through their daily tasks much more easily. And they sleep better, because there’s less stress and anxiety. As caretakers, it’s easy to miss the signs of reduced vision in someone with dementia. But if you suspect your loved one with Alzheimer’s has cataracts, have a doctor check it out. You may enhance the precious time you have to enjoy one another’s company.
Insomnia and cataracts
The gradual yellowing of the lens that occurs with age disturb the body’s circadian rhythm, contributing to a range of health problems. As the eyes age, less and less sunlight gets through the lens to reach key cells in the retina that regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, its internal clock. In a study published in The British Journal of Ophthalmology it was estimated that by age 45, the photoreceptors of the average adult get only 50% of light needed to fully stimulate the circadian system. By age 55, that dips to 37 percent, and by age 75, to a mere 17 percent. A Swedish study showed that after cataract surgery the incidence of insomnia and daytime sleepiness were significantly reduced.
Risks of Cataract Surgery
Like all surgery, cataract surgery is not without risk. The main risks include infection, chronic inflammation and retinal detachment. A new study (published September, 2013) suggests that patients risk of retinal detachment is 4x greater after cataract surgery. However, only 465 out of 202,226 eyes developed retinal detachment. Therefore, even with a 4x increased risk, the absolute risk is tiny. Younger, male patients were at the highest risk.
Cataract surgery has long been known to provide substantial improvements in vision and quality of life. The past year has shown us that cataract surgery also improves cognitive function, reduces insomnia and increases life span. Although there are risks associated with cataract surgery, they are relatively small especially in the hands of a top cataract surgeon.
As an optometrist, I do not perform cataract surgery, but I have taken care of thousands of patients over the past 20 years who have undergone the procedure. At Spectrum Eyecare we are able to answer questions about cataract surgery and guide you to experienced surgeons to help ensure that you have the best possible outcome.
If you have concerns about the health of your eyes, have been told you have cataracts or simply want to have the highest quality eye care, please contact us at (770) 487-0667 or contact us here.