Mood, cognitive ability improve in people with dementia after cataract surgery
After reading a report – the first of its kind – on how cataract surgery can benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease, I wrestled with some personal, if unfounded, guilt. My dad didn’t have AD, but he did have dementia induced by a failed brain surgery.
Before his surgery, Dad’s sight was poor at best. The fact that he also had cataracts was known, but after the brain surgery threw him into severe dementia, his cataracts became a minor problem. Or so the doctors thought.
New information points to benefits of cataract surgery for people with AD
At the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology recently held in Orlando, Fla., researchers from Tenon Hospital, Paris, France, presented findings that “patients with mild Alzheimer's disease whose vision improved after cataract surgery also showed improvement in cognitive ability, mood, sleep patterns and other behaviors.”
According to an article on Marketwire, “A neuropsychologist assessed the Alzheimer's patients for mood and depression, behavior, ability to function independently, and cognitive abilities …after cataract surgery…cognitive status, the ability to perceive, understand and respond appropriately to one's surroundings, improved in 25 percent of patients.”
The article also states that depression was relieved in many of the patients. Even sleep patterns improved.
Is a chance for improvement worth the trauma of surgery?
In certain moods, particularly, Dad had a hard time understanding what medical people were trying to “do to him.” He, at times, thought anyone probing his body in any way was trying to kill him. With the best knowledge at hand, his doctors didn’t think he needed the extra stress of cataract surgery. As a family, even though we knew that more damage would not likely be done to Dad’s brain if he did have cataract surgery, we agreed that the idea of putting him through more trauma seemed cruel.
Dad had always been a voracious reader, so immediately after physically recovering from his brain surgery – as well as he’d ever recover – I started bringing him his beloved books. However, the effort to read was too stressful for him. Even large print books didn’t work well. Talking books didn’t hold his interest, either, as listening is a different process than reading. Eventually, music became the companion that would replace reading.
Still, eye sight isn’t just about reading. Would better eyesight from cataract surgery have helped dad with his depression over his substantial losses? I believe that reading short, printed cards or letters would have helped him a great deal. I believe that with clearer eyesight the activities he could still enjoy on good days would have been enhanced.
But this is hindsight. We did the best with the knowledge we had at the time. The thought that he could have had a better quality of life had we pushed the doctors to do the cataract surgery makes me feel sad. However, I doubt that we'd have succeeded in convincing anyone to do the surgery no matter how hard we pushed. Everyone was working with the knowledge at hand.
This study is one that I hope will make huge waves in the Alzheimer’s and other dementia circles. Just because a person’s brain is not functioning at an optimum level doesn’t mean that everything possible shouldn’t be done to help that person use every sense available, from eye sight to hearing, taste, smell and touch. If your loved one with dementia needs cataract surgery, check with his or her doctor to see if this step could help improve his or her world.