Cataract Surgery Leads to Longer Life in Women

Written by Dr. David Evans   Last modified on September 6, 2018

An article I wrote back in April described a National Bureau of Economic Research study that concluded cataract surgery patients have a life expectancy 1.8 years longer than people with cataracts who do not undergo surgery. Much of that piece focused on the finding that people, who have vision diminished by cataracts, are less likely to be active, and more likely to suffer accidental falls and related injuries. As a follow-on, a new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests an even stronger link between cataract surgery and mortality risk.

older woman riding her bike in the fall

About the Study

The genesis of this study was something completely different than evaluating effects of cataract vision loss. Its original purpose was to evaluate the effects of hormone therapy and dietary changes in postmenopausal women. That study was cut short once it was determined that hormone therapy increased the risk of vascular events. Although the hormone therapy aspect of the study was cancelled, investigators continued to collect health-related data on participants through 2015, giving them 20 years of valuable information.

Armed with this long-term information, researchers were able to evaluate almost 73,000 women from the hormone therapy study, aged 65 and older, who had a cataract diagnosis. From this group, the women who died over the course of the 20 year span of data collection were further divided into a study group, focusing on “cause mortality” and “cause-specific mortality.” (Cause mortality refers to all deaths, regardless of cause, whereas cause-specific refers to deaths that occur as a result of a specific disease/illness.) The categories of cause-specific mortality included neurological, cardiovascular, cancer-related, infectious, pulmonary and accidental causes.

Researchers found that the women who underwent cataract surgery had a decreased risk of mortality across the board, to the tune of a 60 percent lower risk of death, compared with women with cataracts who did not have surgery.

What this Means

Although researchers were admittedly a bit surprised by the consistency of the results, regardless of what kind of mortality was considered, the results make perfect sense. “As an ophthalmologist, I was not surprised because I think that people take their vision for granted, and vision helps with functioning in life,” noted Anne Coleman, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA.

I echo Dr. Coleman’s sentiment, not only because I’ve written previously about the benefits of cataract surgery, but also because of the basic logic at play.

A cataract is a vision impediment that causes contrast loss which cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts. The inability to see levels of contrast impedes a person’s functioning in everyday lighting environments. If you can’t see clearly under most contrast conditions, you are going to be less active and perform less exercise, which can speed up the aging process and create more exposure to disease. Cataracts can also inhibit driving, which limits social interaction, leading to isolation, depression and less mental activity. Vision impairment can also have more direct consequences, such as causing a mix up with pills or other medications, or — as mentioned in my previous article — not seeing obstacles clearly in certain situations, like in a dimly lit closet or while stepping over a curb at dusk.

Dr. Coleman sums things up quite succinctly when she says, “as a clinician, I think it’s [cataract surgery] one of the best surgeries you can do.”

For more information, check out our slideshow covering 8 cataract truths.

I also invite you to schedule a consultation with a local cataract surgeon to learn more about how cataract surgery can benefit you or a loved one.

New Beneft of Cataract Surgery – EyeWorld June 2018
Understanding the Improvement in Disability-Free Life Expectancy in the U.S. Elderly Population – the National Bureau of Economic Research March 2017