health day reporter
FRIDAY, May 20, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Poor eyesight makes reading harder and easier to trip over. But it can also lead to misdiagnosis of mild mental decline in older people, a new small study has found.
This can happen if a person’s thinking skills are assessed using vision-dependent tests, the researchers explained.
They noted that up to 1 in 4 people over the age of 50 had undiagnosed vision problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which could skew visual assessments of their mental sharpness.
AMD does not cause complete vision loss, but severely impairs the ability to read, drive, cook and even recognize faces. It has no effect on mental function (cognition).
Visual impairment affects around 200 million older people worldwide, said study leader Anne Macnamara, who holds a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Australia.
“A wrong score in cognitive tests could have devastating ramifications, leading to unnecessary changes in a person’s life, work, financial or social situation,” Macnamara warned in a university press release.
For example, if an incorrect score contributed to a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, it could trigger psychological issues, including depression and anxiety, Macnamara explained.
This study included 24 participants with normal vision who were asked to complete two cognitive tests, one dependent on vision and the other dependent on verbal skills. They did the tests with and without glasses to simulate AMD.
According to the study, while wearing the glasses, participants had significantly lower scores on the vision-dependent test, but no significant change in scores on the verbal skills test. The results were recently published in the journal Scientific reports.
“People with AMD already experience multiple issues from vision loss, and inaccurate cognitive assessment is an added burden they don’t need,” Macnamara noted.
The study authors added that vision problems are often overlooked by healthcare providers and researchers.
“Researchers can incorporate quick and simple screening tasks before asking people for cognitive testing. Verbal tasks should also always be part of the assessment,” Macnamara said.
The US National Eye Institute has more on low vision.
SOURCE: University of South Australia, press release, 9 May 2022