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Close relationships key to eye health in the elderly

Older adults with limited social interaction are less likely to get cataract surgery, a University of Michigan (UM) study has found.

The research, published recently in JAMA Ophthalmology, linked close family relationships and strong social networks with increased rates of the sight saving procedure. According to the paper, not only can family motivate older adults to take care of their fading vision, but also family members can help them get the care they need.

“It may get to a point that it takes people around them to speak up about their changing vision,” study author Dr Brian Stagg from UM’s Kellogg Eye Center said.

“A nuanced understanding of the impact of social support networks is important to develop as we implement strategies to improve access to cataract surgery for a rapidly growing older population.”

The study is consistent with a trend in health research that examines the impact of social isolation on health. Observations of 9,760 adults older than 65 with Medicare benefits revealed that those with none, one or two family members had 40% lower odds of receiving cataract surgery than adults with three or more family members.

The results mean primary care doctors and ophthalmologists may need to ask older adults if transportation and support is available after the procedure, while the authors suggested that a social worker could also help navigate care.

In the study, friends, spouses or partners did not influence the decision to have cataract surgery as much as adult children. It was theorised this is because an adult child who visits intermittently might notice vision changes in an older parent that others don’t.

Cataract is one of the most common treatable causes of vision impairment around the world, and surgery has been found to improve quality of life, reduce risk of falls and cut cognitive decline among older adults.


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