Can Cataract Surgery Extend Your Patients' Lives?


LOOKING AHEAD Improved vision from cataract surgery contributed to a 1.3-year increase in life expectancy for 65-year-old Americans.

A skilled cataract surgeon can essentially restore a patient's vision, but can his work also tack years onto a patient's life? The authors of a recent study say yes.

In its nearly 2-decade study of life expectancy in the elderly, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Americans at the age of 65 who opt for cataract surgery live longer. Why? Researchers said the reversal of vision degradation makes these patients less likely to experience a disabling event — a broken hip resulting from a fall, for example — that could ultimately shorten their life.

From 1991 to 2009, vision impairment for elderly Medicare beneficiaries fell from 40% to 25%. This trend helped to fuel a 1.3-year increase in life expectancy — from 17.5 years to 18.8 years — for 65-year-old Americans over the course of the 18-year period studied. Although cataracts were the primary source of vision impairment, other sources included glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

Better cardiac health was another key contributor to improved overall health in U.S. 65-year-olds. Enhancements in surgical and pharmaceutical interventions accounted for more than half (51%) of the reduction in mortality from ischemic heart disease, the study showed.

Lifestyle-related risk factors, such as living alone, smoking and obesity, were also reviewed. Although smoking rates in elderly Medicare beneficiaries dipped significantly during the course of the study (15% in 1991 to 9% in 2009), the incidence of obesity in the same cohort ballooned (13% to 25%). The authors said that if the obesity trend continues, the negative health effects on the aging U.S. population will outweigh the positive effects gained from declining smoking rates.

This article appeared in Outpatient Surgery E Weekly dated 1/17/17.

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