Vision impairment and cognitive decline among older adults: a systematic review

BMJ Open. 2022 Jan 6;12(1):e047929. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-047929.


Objectives: There has been increasing epidemiological research examining the association between vision impairment (VI) and cognitive impairment and how poor vision may be a modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline. The objective of this systematic review is to synthesise the published literature on the association of VI with cognitive decline, cognitive impairment or dementia, to aid the development of interventions and guide public policies pertaining to the relationship between vision and cognition.

Methods: A literature search was performed with Embase, Medline and Cochrane library databases from inception to March 2020, and included abstracts and articles published in peer-reviewed journals in English. Our inclusion criteria included publications that contained subjective/objective measures of vision and cognition, or a diagnosis of VI, cognitive impairment or dementia. Longitudinal or cross-sectional studies with ≥100 participants aged >50 years were included. The search identified 11 805 articles whose abstracts underwent screening by three teams of study authors. Data abstraction and quality assessment using the Effective Public Health Practice Project Quality Assessment Tool were performed by one author (NN). 10% of the articles underwent abstraction and appraisal by a second author (LA/VV), results were compared between both and were in agreement.

Results: 110 full-text articles were selected for data extraction, of which 53 were cross-sectional, 43 longitudinal and 14 were case-control studies. The mean age of participants was 73.0 years (range 50-93.1). Ninety-one (83%) of these studies reported that VI was associated with cognitive impairment.

Conclusion: Our systematic review indicates that a majority of studies examining the vision-cognition relationship report that VI is associated with more cognitive decline, cognitive impairment or dementia among older adults. This synthesis supports the need for additional research to understand the mechanisms underlying the association between VI and cognitive impairment and to test interventions that mitigate the cognitive consequences of VI.

Keywords: delirium & cognitive disorders; epidemiology; geriatric medicine; ophthalmology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / complications
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Concept Formation
  • Dementia* / complications
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors