Low Vision or Cognitive Decline? Beware of confusion!


  • Poor eyesight is wrongly confused with brain atrophy
  • Visual impairment affects approximately 200 million people over the age of 50 worldwide

Poor vision in the elderly does not affect cognition: This reminder from the University of South Australia (UniSA) is important.

In a quarter of those over 50 with undiagnosed vision problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it could be mistaken for brain decline. The researchers of the study regret this.

eye disease

Age-related macular degeneration is one of the main causes of poor eyesight in the elderly. It is an eye disease that affects the central zone of the retina and occurs from the age of 50.

While it doesn’t cause complete vision loss, it does have serious effects on people’s ability to read, drive, cook, and even recognize faces.

devastating consequences

This vision disorder unfairly affects cognitive scores when testing visual abilities with significant impact:

An incorrect result on cognitive tests can be devastating, leading to unnecessary changes in a person’s life, work, finances, or social circumstances.‘ explains Anne Macnamara, a PhD student at UniSA who led the study.

For example, if an incorrect score contributes to the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, it can trigger mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. People with AMD already have multiple problems from vision loss, and an inaccurate cognitive assessment is an added burden they don’t need.”adds the scientist.

Simulate AMD

The UniSA researchers recruited 24 participants with normal vision to perform two cognitive tests – one that involved vision-dependent and reaction time-related tasks, and the other that was based on verbal fluency.

With glasses to simulate AMD, the participants performed significantly worse on cognitive tests with reaction time tasks than without glasses. No statistical difference was found in the speech tests with the glasses.

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