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Cataract removal improves life.

Many of the common progressive symptoms associated with aging--such as mental decline, memory loss, and lack of interest in activities--can be reversed by removal of cloudy cataracts. A nationwide study, compiled at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, reveals that cataracts often impair participation in activities and driving. They also contribute to feelings of dissatisfaction with life by senior Americans and can exacerbate mental decline.

Removal of a cloudy cataract and replacement with a clear lens implant invariably improved all measurable qualities of life, regardless of age or the existence of other eye disorders. Individuals as old as 92 were examined and none were found to be too old to benefit from the most common eye operation performed in the U.S.--more than 1,500,000 a year.

Without fail, the study revealed that those senior Americans who choose to live with limited sight caused by cataracts will experience a decline in measurable qualities of life. Family members and social workers who care for the elderly are advised to be alert for signs of mental decline and loss of interest in activities, which may be linked with cataracts. Common symptoms include diminished night vision, reduced side vision, loss of depth perception, altered color perception (blues and violets may appear washed out), and frequent eyeglass changes.

Researchers found that the most dramatic improvement was recorded in night driving, an activity that many senior adults give up needlessly because they are unaware they have cataracts. Limited sight caused by cataracts also has been linked to increases in hip fractures, higher auto accident rates, and earlier admission to nursing homes. They may result in premature retirement and even increased mortality rates among aged populations.

The cost of living with limited sight caused by cataracts far outweighs the price of removal. A cataract operation runs less than $2,500, while fractured hips cost up to $25,000 for repair and rehabilitation, nursing home care exceeds $20,000 annually, and the expenses resulting from an auto accident usually exceed that of the eye surgery. For every dollar spent on cataract care, an estimated two dollars are saved in social welfare costs.

The short healing time and quick visual rehabilitation associated with modern removal techniques means that patients need not wait a prolonged time to experience the benefits. Smaller incisions, lens implants, ultrasonic removal, and newer methods of anesthesia now make it possible for many patients to experience improved sight the instant they leave the operating table. With the modern methods of cataract removal, patients often can return to normal activity levels the next day.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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