Misericordia’s cataract surgeries a boon – at any age

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Patricia Hansen used to love reading books, watching TV and taking part in conversations with her friends.

But over the past few years, her daughter, Cyndi, noticed her 93-year-old mother was gradually not doing her favourite activities.

While Patricia was staying in an interim care unit at Winnipeg’s Misericordia Health Centre awaiting placement in a personal care home, Cyndi also noticed her cognitive skills were deteriorating and she had a hard time recognizing people and situations.

“She was assuming what was happening based on the sounds she heard,” Cyndi explains.

“If someone was (nearby) laughing or telling a joke, to her it sounded like somebody was crying, like something bad was happening because she couldn’t see the expressions on their faces.”

Although her mother told her everything was fine, Cyndi, a nurse for more than 20 years, wondered if her mother’s eyesight might be a factor. She’d been diagnosed with slight cataracts about 15 years ago.

Cyndi decided to take advantage of Misericordia’s Eye Care Centre of Excellence and booked an appointment for her mother, who was examined by ophthalmologist Dr. Lorne Bellan.

He was shocked at how bad her cataracts were.

“Her level of vision when I first saw her was worse than legal blindness,” says Dr. Bellan, whose subspecialty is oculoplastic surgery.

“Her vision was horrendous. It had essentially not been picked up and therefore ignored and she was just suffering the consequences.”

Dr. Bellan performed cataract surgery earlier this year on both of Patricia’s eyed – about three weeks apart – and she now has close to 20/20 vision.

“Oh gosh, it’s like a new birth,” Patricia says. “I can see things now. The operation, oh, it made the biggest difference in my life.

“I’d advise anybody who has those problems, go and get it done.”

“I didn’t realize how bad it was. She’s a good cover-upper,” Cyndi adds with a wry smile.

“I noticed since the cataracts were removed, big difference. She’s able to be part of (situations) instead of sitting back and not really seeing what’s happening.”

More than 8,100 surgeries are performed each year at the Eye Care Centre of Excellence, with cataract surgeries accounting for approximately 78 per cent of those.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, which is caused by the aging process, blunt trauma or some systemic diseases. A surgeon can remove the cataracts and replace them with an intraocular lens.

Both Cyndi and her mother admit they were a bit nervous about the surgery.

“I’d heard so much about the surgeries — am I going to go into something worse than I have now?” Patricia says.

“Then I thought, oh to heck, I might as well take the chance.”

Part of Cyndi’s trepidation was the fact her mother was on blood thinners, but both surgeries went smoothly.

“She has really bad arthritis, she can’t walk anymore, she can’t do the tactile things, the knitting, the things that she used to love to do,” she says.

“So her vision, it comes down to quality of life. That’s why I convinced her let’s do this.”

Dr. Bellan says it’s not uncommon for eye problems to go undetected in the elderly, particularly those in personal care homes.

If people don’t exhibit problems in their 70s, sometimes they get forgotten, he says.

“And then sometimes there’s the sense of ageism, ‘Oh well, there’s not much you can do. Someone’s in their mid-90s, that’s just the way things should be.’” says Dr. Bellan, noting he’s even performed cataract surgery on a 100-year-old patient.

The person may also downplay their vision problems because they don’t want to be a bother. Others elect not to have the surgery because they think they’re too old, which can be frustrating for doctors, he says.

He adds studies show a correlation between vision problems and falls and fractures in the elderly and that’s another reason why he hopes family and caregivers keep an eye on elderly people’s eyes.

“It’s not that often that we end up doing interventions where we can in one fell sweep turn somebody from legal blindness to having perfectly normal vision again,” says Dr. Bellan, who is also the president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society.

“It’s obviously very rewarding to do something like that. (Hansen is) going to have a much better quality of life now from having this intervention.”

For more information about Misericordia Health Centre, visit www.misericordia.mb.ca.