Older adults with undiagnosed vision problems at risk of misdiagnosis

Individuals with age-related macular degeneration and cataracts could be falsely diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment

Pixabay/Sabine van Erp
Australian researchers have highlighted that using visual tests to screen for cognitive impairment could result in the misdiagnosis of those with latent vision problems.

Describing their findings in Scientific Reports, the University of South Australia scientists emphasised the importance of considering vision when assessing cognitive function.

“When vision is not accounted for, low test scores may inaccurately indicate poor cognition,” they stated.

The researchers recruited 24 study participants with normal vision who completed two tests of cognition – one involving vision-dependent reaction tasks and the other based on verbal fluency.

When the participants wore goggles that simulate the vision of someone with age-related macular degeneration, they scored lower on the tasks involving reaction time while there was no statistical difference on the tests based on verbal fluency.

Study lead, Anne Macnamara, highlighted that a mistaken cognition score as a result of poor vision could trigger psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.

"People with AMD are already experiencing multiple issues due to vision loss and an inaccurate cognitive assessment is an additional burden they don't need,” she said.

She emphasised that those conducting tests can perform quick and simple vision screening tests before assessing cognition, and should always include verbal tasks as part of the assessment.