When it comes to age-related eye health issues, your choice in care is limited. Early signs are typically met with a “watch and wait” mentality. Intermediate stages are cared for through nutritional supplementation (an AREDS 2 eye vitamin). When the eye health concern advances and there’s bleeding in the retina, the common care protocol is anti-VEGF injections delivered directly to the eye. While these injections help stop the bleeding and preserve vision, they have recently been linked to cognitive decline.
What Is VEGF?
First, let’s talk about what anti-VEGF shots are and why they work for age-related eye health issues. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein naturally found within the body that stimulates new blood vessel development. When someone has advanced age-related eye health issues, new blood vessels grow at a rapid rate and are not very strong, so they tend to leak and bleed into the eye. Anti-VEGF shots halt the protein that encourages these blood vessels to grow, therefore halting the production of these weakened vessels and subsequent bleeding.
The investigation that discovered this connection, called the BHAM study, was sparked by the realization that “normal” cognitive function and neural health are associated with average levels of VEGF, and the anti-VEGF shots linger in the body and could suppress VEGF production everywhere. BHAM investigators sought to determine if this is an accurate concern and, if so, where the risk falls.
The study included 175 participants with age-related eye health issues with bleeding between the ages of 65 and 85 years old. Participants needed to have a visual acuity score of 20/50 or better in one eye, and they were sorted into groups based on how many anti-VEGF injections they’d received:
To test the groups’ cognitive ability, each participant completed a tablet-based brain health assessment which tested several areas of brain function, including:
- Executive function (mental skills including working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control)
- Speed and visuospatial abilities (ability to determine the space relative to objects)
- Language skills
This study determined that those participants who endured 20 or more anti-VEGF injections had a higher chance of cognitive impairment compared to the control group.
What Does This Mean?
Though the “degree” of impairment is considered mild, this raises concern for those who are identified with advanced age-related eye health issues at a relatively young age. The longer you have advanced age-related eye health issues and receive anti-VEGF injections, the higher your chance of developing cognitive impairment. However, more research needs to be done to understand the true impact of the suppression of VEGF throughout the body.
Having age-related eye health issues is scary enough without the threat of increased cognitive decline. The best way to avoid this is to avoid the need for anti-VEGF injections, and annual eye exams can help detect age-related eye health issues early enough for other methods of intervention. Additionally, if you’re at risk for or showing early signs of these issues, you can do more than watch and wait. EyePromise® Restore is specifically designed for such an instance and is clinically proven to support and enhance vision while warding off advancement of age-related eye health issues.