Q: My 87-year-old mother has a cataract in one eye and is developing another in the other. Her doctor says she should have surgery, but at her age, I’m worried about the operation. What’s your advice? — Edie C., Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
A: If her overall health is good, the surgery should not only improve her quality of life, but could extend it, as well. A new study based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative found that cataract surgery was “associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality.” “All cause” means everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
The team of researchers, assembled at UCLA and including docs from across the U.S., recently published their findings in JAMA Ophthalmology. They looked at more than 20 years of data that included 74,000 women 65 and older, 40,000 of whom had cataracts.
The scientists found that seeing an ophthalmologist and maintaining your vision (cataract surgery) was associated with better cognitive function and a longer life. One obvious reason is that an older person’s risk of falling is greatly reduced with improved vision. Falls are the leading cause of death among people 65 and older, accounting for around 9,500 deaths annually. Also, when you can see better, you’re happier, more active, more able to read, play games and interact with the world — all fuel for keeping the body healthy and the brain sharp.
So for your mom, the next step is to find a good eye surgeon. We suggest getting referrals from her doctor and friends who have had the procedure done; then talk to the surgeons. Ask about their complication rate. Even though the procedure has an overall success rate above 98 percent, there are risks. In the U.S., the lifetime risk of a detached retina as a complication is about 1 percent. That number rises to about 2 percent if there is some cloudiness on the lens post-surgery that’s cleaned up with YAG laser capsulotomy. But chances are Mom will sail through with flying colors — that she’ll be able to see!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at email@example.com.