Detecting Heart Disease, Dementia, and More

An eye exam may identify other issues other than vision problems. It's recommended that everyone should see an ophthalmologist for a baseline medical eye exam at age 40. This is the age when early signs of eye disease and vision changes can begin. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests seniors over the age of 65 should see an ophthalmologist every one to two years. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is a painless procedure in which an eye care professional examines your eyes to look for common vision problems and eye diseases, many of which have no early warning signs.

A dilated-eye exam allows a doctor to literally see inside your body, checking on the health of your blood vessels and nerve tissue that actually runs all the way to the brain, among other things. There are around 300 systemic diseases that can show up in the eye. An ophthalmologist can determine health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, cancer, and even risk of dementia.

  1. Diabetes. Diabetes affects the capillaries in your retina and may cause them to leak a yellowish fluid or bleed. This is a common sign of undiagnosed diabetic retinopathy.
  2. High blood pressure. When you suffer from high blood pressure, the blood vessels in your eyes may exhibit kinks or tears. You may also have weakened or narrowed arteries.
  3. High cholesterol. If your corneas have a yellowish tint this may be a sign of high cholesterol. Plaques in the blood vessels can also indicate high cholesterol.
  4. Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Inflammation of the irises is a big indicator of rheumatoid arthritis. Eye doctors can often spot signs of other autoimmune diseases as well; bulging eyes is a symptom of a condition known as Graves' disease.
  5. Cancer. Many different types of cancer can be detected during comprehensive eye exams. Brain tumors can be detected based on vision changes. Your eyes can also indicate if you have skin cancer and retinal bleeding can indicate leukemia.
  6. Risk of Dementia. According to the AAO, doctors have long observed a link between vision loss and cognitive decline. Many studies have shown that older adults with impaired vision have twice the risk of developing conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The studies found that cognitive decline is tied to three types of vision loss:
    • People with the worst visual acuity had the greatest risk of declining language and memory.
    • Those who had difficulty detecting objects set against similar-colored backgrounds, also known as contrast sensitivity, had higher risks of declining language, memory, attention and visuospatial ability.
    • People with poor depth perception are at increased risk for declines in language and memory.

A recent study from South Korea found that people with impairments in both vision and hearing are twice as likely to develop dementia as people with only one or neither impairment. These new findings reveal just how important it is to get regular eye exams. Not only can eye exams help catch vision loss early, they may also help identify seniors at risk of life threatening health problems. Contact Shofner Vision Center to schedule your comprehensive eye exam soon.

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