A new study by the University of South Australia has found that millions of people aged 50 or over with poor vision are at risk of being misdiagnosed with mild cognitive impairments.
The study deduced that cognitive tests that rely on vision-dependent tasks could be distorting results in 25 per cent of older people (aged 50 or over) who have undiagnosed eye diseases such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. It is a progressive eye disease that destroys central vision, and can impact a person’s ability to read, drive, cook and other daily tasks. It, however, doesn’t affect cognition.
PhD candidate Anne Macnamara, who led the study, says findings indicate that visual impairments can unfairly affect cognitive scores when visual tests are involved.
“A mistaken score in cognitive tests could have devastating ramifications, leading to unnecessary changes to a person’s living, working, financial or social circumstances,” Macnamara said about the study.
“For example, if a mistaken score contributed to a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, it could trigger psychological problems including depression and anxiety.
“People with AMD are already experiencing multiple issues due to vision loss and an inaccurate cognitive assessment is an additional burden they don’t need.”
What should you do if you think you are at risk of developing AMD?
May is Macular Month – the Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s (MDFA) annual campaign to raise awareness of macular disease.
If you are experiencing sudden changes in your vision, it is crucial that you get your eyes tested immediately. If you have a sibling or parent with AMD, you are 50 per cent more likely to develop the disease too.
This May, the MDFA is urging you to start a conversation about family eye health, as well as follow this checklist:
- Have a regular comprehensive eye examination, including a check of the macula.
- Use an Amsler grid weekly (daily if you already have macular disease) to check for symptoms and assist in monitoring your vision at home, between visits to your eye health professional.
- If you smoke, quit!
- Maintain an eye healthy diet and lifestyle.
MDFA operates a National Helpline on 1800 111 709 providing free information and advice about all kinds of macular disease. You can call the number for a free information kit and Amsler grid. For more resources, visit their website here.