Vision and Memory Loss

While we know a lot about what memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease look like, but why some people develop these illnesses is still mostly a mystery.

Still, there is evidence that treating health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes reduces the chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss. For example, people with poor hearing have a higher risk of memory loss. This may be because they become socially isolated when they can’t communicate easily with others. Other research has pointed to air pollution, excessive alcohol consumption, and brain injuries as risk factors for memory loss.

Many of these studies are sponsored by the Lancet Commission, including a newly released study that suggests impaired vision puts people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss. Like hearing, vision is important for reducing isolation and depression, other probable risk factors for memory loss. It’s hard to enjoy playing a board game and talking with friends if you can’t see or hear what’s happening. Phone calls become strained, too. There’s also an increased risk of falling, yet another potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

There may be a physiological aspect as well. Vision, like hearing, allows for sensory experiences. Sensory experiences stimulate neural pathways in the brain. When sensory experiences are diminished, these neurons may die, reducing brain function.

Publishing data about memory loss risk factors has a two-fold purpose. Of course, scientific findings help people make decisions about their health care. Such data can also be used to pressure Medicare/Medicaid and other insurers to provide better coverage. Many insurers, including Medicaid, pay for only a small portion of the cost of hearing aids and glasses and may not replace lost or broken ones. Good hearing aids cost thousands of dollars, and Medicaid Advantage may cover only a few hundred dollars of that cost. Glasses can be another mostly
out-of-pocket expense, so people may skip buying them or delay getting a prescription upgrade when needed.

In 2021, the House of Representatives passed a bill to expand Medicare coverage, including increased hearing and vision care. The Senate did not approve the bill. Consider writing to your local representatives if this is an issue you would like to see them focus on.