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Can Cataract Surgery Help You Live Longer?

Written by David Evans, PhD, MBA   Posted on January 23, 2017

You’re probably aware of the positive impact that cataract surgery can have on vision, but did you know it could actually help you live longer? So says a recent study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Published in June of 2016, the study evaluated life expectancy of 65 year olds between the years of 1992 and 2008. During that time, healthy life expectancy increased by 1.8 years. The study attributed the increase to a variety of factors, notably improved cardiac health care and improved vision related to cataract surgery.

cataract surgery

What is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that compromises vision and can cause eventual blindness. As cataracts worsen and vision continues to deteriorate, patients may experience problems with night vision, glare and sensitivity to light, blurred vision, double vision and more.

Debilitating as cataracts may be, they are not life threatening as a stand-alone ailment, which begs the question… why would cataract surgery improve your life expectancy?

The answer is rather obvious, albeit somewhat indirect. Cataracts cause diminished quality of life due to significant reductions in vision. If you aren’t able to see clearly, you are inhibited from doing a great many healthful things. Cataract patients find it increasingly difficult to drive a car (especially at night), or spend time exercising outdoors on bright, sunny days. Cataract patients becoming increasingly immobile as their condition worsens. This can have a drastic impact on overall health, and on mental attitude.

Similarly, cataract patients are more at risk of having an accident, such as fracturing a hip. A 2012 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cataract surgery patients had lower rates of hip fracture than people in the same age group with cataracts. This makes perfect sense given that the more clearly you can see, the less likely you are to have an accidental fall navigating steps or the like. Cataracts typically cause a significant reduction in the how patients see in low contrast situations, such climbing steps at night or maneuvering around items in the garage after hours.

According to the study, “people who receive cataract surgery are less likely to experience adverse disability trends than people who do not receive cataract surgery.” This means, patients who have had surgery remain more mobile over their lifetime.

The long and the short of it is that improved quality of life correlates with longer life. That’s not to say that if you have cataract surgery, you’re automatically going to enjoy a longer life. As with anything, you get out what you put in and eliminating vision loss with cataracts does not automatically resolve other age-related health issues. But, all things being equal, if you have cataract surgery, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to have much better vision and be more mobile (less accident prone) during your twilight years.

Learn more about cataract surgery

If you’re interested in reviewing the study, you can check it out here: http://www.nber.org/chapters/c13631.pdf