Elderly patients in early stages of cognitive decline are more apt to also experience visual challenges. Photo: Shutterstock.

Given recent research that has shown an association between cognitive and visual impairments, researchers sought to better understand this connection. They found that while visual and cognitive abilities decline simultaneously, this occurs independently across visual and cognitive functions as well as across patients.

To explore the link between visual and cognitive decline among mildly cognitive impaired individuals, the researchers used 19 visual tasks on 39 older adults with mild cognitive impairment and 91 without any evidence of cognitive decline, as measured by the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

The study authors reported a strong association between visual impairment and mild cognitive impairment. The data revealed that, on average, older adults with mild cognitive impairment performed worse on visual tasks compared with their counterparts who had no evidence of cognitive decline.

Additionally, the researchers reported a correlation between visual acuity and contrast sensitivity with cognition and complex visual function performance, including orientation discrimination and motion perception. However, they observed only weak correlations between visual task performance in healthy patients and those with mild cognitive impairment.

“We found that visual functions are strongly associated with cognitive decline providing a new promising direction of study to elucidate the relationship between vision and cognition,” the researchers concluded in their report on the work. “However, there are only weak correlations between the performance levels of the visual functions arguing against common factors. The lack of evidence for a common visual factor suggests that there is no general decline of visual abilities due to age-related changes.”

Garobbio S, Pilz KS, Kunchulia M, et al. No common factor underlying decline of visual abilities in mild cognitive impairment. Exp Aging Res. July 3, 2022. [Epub ahead of print].