In older adults, vision impairment (VI) is associated with worse cognitive function.

However, the relationship between mid-life vision and future cognitive function remains unknown. Looking to close this gap, researchers recently found that moderate or worse VI led to lower scores on measures of cognitive function over a 15-year period as women transitioned from mid-life to older adulthood.

The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, a longitudinal cohort of women aged 42 through 52 years at baseline, evaluated 394 patients who were followed for up to 20 years. Presenting visual acuity (VA) in the better-seeing eye was assessed at baseline and categorized as no or mild VI (VA≥20/60) or moderate or worse VI (VA<20/60). Cognitive function was measured eight times over 15 years using the East Boston Memory Test immediate (EBMTi) and delayed (EBMTd) recall and the Digit Span Backwards (DSB) tests. Linear mixed models were constructed to detect associations between VI at baseline and future repeated measures of cognitive function, adjusting for age, race, education, financial strain, alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

After covariate adjustment, moderate or worse VI was associated with lower EMBTi (β=-0.56), EBMTd (β=-0.60) and DSB (β=-0.84) scores. While the team detected significant associations between VI and levels of cognitive function scores, rates of cognitive decline as individuals aged did not vary by VI status.

The study authors believe this study expands on work that has reported a consistent association between VA and cognitive function in older adults, demonstrating that this relationship may be present decades earlier.

“Identifying mid-life risk factors for future cognitive decline is an important research priority, and this study contributes to a fuller understanding of the association between mid-life vision and future cognitive changes,” they concluded in their paper. “In mid-life, effective interventions to improve vision are available and may improve future cognitive function as well.”

Kolli A, Hood MM, Karvonen-Gutierrez C, et al. Mid-life vision impairment and cognitive function in later life: the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, Michigan cohort. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. June 21, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].