Seniors who have a smaller family support network are less likely to get cataract surgery, according to a recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology. Adult children have more influence over an older person’s decision to have cataract surgery than friends, spouses or partners.

An adult child who visits their parent might notice vision changes that others have not observed, said study author and ophthalmologist Brian C. Stagg, MD, in the University of Michigan’s announcement of the research. Dr. Stagg conducted this research while a Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan, Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“It may get to a point that it takes people around them to speak up about their changing vision,” Dr. Stagg said in the announcement. He speculated that an adult child who does not see a parent as often may be more likely to notice vision changes. And aging spouses or friends may not notice a person’s vision problems because of health problems of their own, Dr. Stagg added.

For the study, 3,448 Medicare beneficiaries were interviewed from 2011 to 2015. People who had none, one or two family members had 40 percent lower odds of getting cataract surgery than those with three or more family members. Maria A. Woodward, MD, MSc, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, added that the study did not measure the quality of patients’ social support. The quality of the support offered could also be important. Dr. Woodward is a co-author of the study.

Cataract surgery is an operation to remove your eye’s lens when it gets cloudy. This clouding usually happens as a natural part of aging. The only way to remove a cataract is with surgery. The cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). There are many benefits of cataract surgery, including improved quality of life and reduced risk of falls, the researchers noted.

The study also suggested that patients who don’t have a robust social network can be helped by health care providers to decide when it’s time for them to have cataract surgery. For instance, doctors can ask their patients if they have transportation and support available for the recovery time after the cataract surgery to get an idea of the condition of their social network.

Content shared from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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