Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of visual impairment in older adults and may increase the risk of dementia. Other health conditions, such as diabetes, may also increase the risk of dementia.

AMD is the most common cause of blindness in developed countries. It primarily affects people older than 60 years. When it occurs, a person begins to lose clarity in their central vision.

Living with AMD may increase the risk of developing dementia, a condition associated with loss of cognitive processes, such as thinking or memory, that interferes with daily life.

When a person has other health conditions, such as diabetes, their risk of developing dementia may increase more.

This article reviews what the research says about the connection between AMD and dementia, suggestions for lifestyle changes, and what to discuss with a doctor.

Several studies have looked into the connection between AMD and dementia.

In a 2023 study, researchers analyzed the association between various eye-related diseases, including AMD, cataracts, and glaucoma, and dementia.

Researchers found that AMD increases the risk of dementia. People with both AMD and a comorbid condition (a medical condition that occurs at the same time as another condition), particularly diabetes, had an even higher risk of developing dementia.

Other comorbid conditions that may increase the risk of dementia include:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • depression

A 2019 review of previous studies found similar results.

In their review, researchers examined 21 studies on dementia and AMD. They found a two-way link between the conditions: People with dementia have a higher chance of developing AMD, particularly late or advanced AMD, and people with AMD have a higher chance of developing dementia.

However, not all research agrees.

In a 2019 study using over 150 autopsy reports of people over age 75 years at the time of death, researchers did not find enough evidence to link AMD with Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia.

Researchers concluded that any shared mechanisms of the diseases may not impact each other. In other words, living with AMD or Alzheimer’s will not increase the risk of developing the other.

AMD and dementia share some common risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing either condition.

A person cannot change all risk factors, such as age or race, but they can make some lifestyle changes to help prevent both conditions.

These lifestyle changes include:

  • Not smoking: The risk of AMD may increase in people who smoke cigarettes. Similarly, experts recommend a person take steps for healthy aging, including not smoking, to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Eating a balanced diet: A well-balanced, nutritious diet may help prevent AMD and dementia. For AMD, a person can focus on eating green, leafy vegetables, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and fatty fish. For dementia, a generally balanced diet may help promote healthy aging.
  • Getting regular exercise: Along with diet, regular exercise may help a person prevent both conditions from developing.
  • Taking steps to protect cardiovascular health: Managing heart health may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and AMD. Taking care of the heart can involve regularly monitoring blood pressure, taking steps to reduce cholesterol, and making dietary and exercise changes.

Many of the preventive steps for AMD and dementia may also help prevent comorbidities, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Preventing the development of comorbidities may also help reduce the risk of developing dementia in people living with AMD.

Once AMD develops, a common course of treatment involves using a vitamin supplement known as AREDS 2. It provides a person with high amounts of:

  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • zinc
  • copper
  • lutein
  • zeaxanthin

Evidence suggests that the specific combination of vitamins in AREDS 2 can help slow AMD progression. However, it can also interact with other medications a person may be taking.

Though available over the counter, a person should discuss taking AREDS 2 with a doctor before starting the supplement to address vision loss. A person can review all current medications with a doctor so they can help determine whether AREDS 2 will potentially interact with them.

If a potential complication exists, a doctor may be able to recommend different treatment options for AMD or a comorbid condition.

It is recommended a person talk with a doctor before starting any new supplement, making radical changes to their diet, or before beginning an exercise program.

A doctor can offer advice on safely starting exercise. They can review current medications to determine whether adding new supplements may help.

Research suggests that doctors may also want to monitor a person living with AMD for signs and symptoms of dementia. Regular checkups may help a doctor detect early signs of dementia and start treatment as soon as possible.

Living with AMD and other chronic conditions, particularly diabetes, may increase the risk of dementia.

Many preventive steps for both conditions involve similar lifestyle strategies, including monitoring heart health, quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise. These strategies may also help prevent comorbid conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, that can increase the risk of dementia.

Certain treatments for AMD can interfere with medications. A person should discuss with their doctor whether to add AREDS 2 to their routine before starting the supplement due to the risk of it interfering with other medications.