A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens in the eye, and cataract surgery involves removing a cloudy natural lens and implanting an artificial implant lens. You probably know that cataract surgery results in improved vision and reduced glare, but you may not be aware that cataract surgery decreases the risk of a car accident.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car accidents are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in people 65 to 74 years old and are the second-leading cause, after falls, in people who are 75 to 84 years old. In addition, older drivers have a higher fatality rate per mile than any other group except those under the age of 25.
Cataracts are one of the most common causes of vision impairment in older adults. Cataracts usually develop after age 60, and it is often said that we all get cataracts if we live long enough. Because cataracts cause blurry vision and glare, many people with cataracts feel unsafe driving, especially at night or in bad weather conditions. Even though many older drivers voluntarily reduce or stop driving for a variety of reasons, the car crash rate per mile driven increases dramatically over age 65.
An influential study by Cynthia Ousley and other authors – published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 – revealed some important conclusions that are as important now as they were when the study was originally reported. They compared the crash rate of cataract patients who had cataract surgery to those who had cataracts but did not undergo surgery. They found that cataract patients who had surgery had approximately 50 percent fewer crashes over the four to six years following surgery than those who decided not to have surgery.
The results of this and several other studies show that cataract surgery can decrease the risk of a car accident as well as improve many other aspects of an older adult’s quality of life. Because cataracts develop slowly, many older adults don’t realize how much their vision is affected until they have their vision restored by cataract surgery.
In my experience as a cataract surgeon, patients often tell me that they didn’t realize how much they were missing until they had surgery to improve their vision. When I discuss cataract surgery with patients, I explain the pros and cons of surgery and how surgery might affect their most important activities, including driving.
Cataract surgery is elective surgery, meaning that each person can decide if and when to have surgery. No one should feel pressure to have surgery, but a person’s ability to drive and personal safety, as well as the safety of others on the road, are factors to consider when deciding on surgery. If you have a cataract or know someone who does, your ophthalmologist can discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with you.
Dr. Allan Rutzen is an ophthalmologist who specializes in medical and surgical conditions that are in the front of the eye. He has particular expertise in cataract and laser eye surgery. If you have questions or if you would like an eye examination, call Rutzen Eye Specialists & Laser Center at 410-975-0090 for an appointment. His office is located in Severna Park at 489 Ritchie Highway, Suite 200. Visit www.rutzeneye.com for more information.