Patients who undergo surgical removal of visually significant cataracts live longer than those who choose not to have the procedure, according to a study in the September issue of Ophthalmology.

In this cohort from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, researchers evaluated 354 patients age 49 and older with cataract-related vision impairment between 1992 and 2007. Some of the patients elected to have cataract surgery, while others did not. After comparing long-term follow-up data, the researchers determined that patients who underwent cataract removal had a 40% lower overall mortality risk than those who did not have surgery.

“Our finding complements the previously documented associations between visual impairment and increased mortality among older persons,” said lead author Jie Jin Wang, PhD, senior research fellow and professor of clinical ophthalmology and eye health at the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. “It suggests to ophthalmologists that correcting cataract patients’ visual impairment in their daily practice results in improved outcomes beyond that of the eye and vision, and has important impacts on general health.”

While the association between visually significant cataract removal and reduced mortality risk still is not well understood, Dr. Wang believes that improvements in physical and emotional well being,increased optimism, enhanced confidence associated within dependent living after visual improvement, and better compliance with prescription medication dosing are the most likely contributory factors.

Fong CS, Mitchell P, Rochtchina E, et al. Correction of visual impairment by cataract surgery and improved survival in older persons: The Blue Mountains Eye Study cohort.Ophthalmology. 2013 Sep;120(9):1720-7.