Why my mother doesn’t want cataract surgery.

My mother is 70 years old and a Type 2 diabetic on tablets. The other day, she mentioned to me that she was suffering blurry vision. She was finding it harder to read the small print on the television and reading the newspaper.

These symptoms are familiar, as I also hear many of my cataract patients complain of the same things.

I asked her whether it affected both eyes.  she said it was worse in one eye, but did affect both eyes.  My mother is not a bad diabetic. She regularly checks her blood sugars, and attends her diabetic eye screening appointments every year. At these appointments photographs are taken of the back of the eye to look for blood sugar damage to the retina.

Her last report showed some mild diabetic retinopathy, but nothing requiring laser therapy or injections to the back of the eye.

I asked if the technicians had any trouble taking a clear photograph of the back of the eyes. Moderate cataracts can prevent clear photography. In turn making it hard to recognise diabetic retinopathy.

Many of my cataract patients are referred to me through this pathway. They have had a diabetic eye screening photograph in a community clinic, and the photographs are not clear enough for accurate interpretation due to cataract.

My mother has said that she had been referred to her local eye clinic, because the photographs of the back of her eye were a little blurry due to cataract.
Did  she want cataract surgery to improve her vision – the answer was a categorical no.

“Why?” I asked.
The response from her ‘I am too scared’.
Why was she scared?
I knew the answer. Many of my patients raise these very concerns.
My mother replied ‘it might go wrong’.
I then asked her whether she knew how many cataract operations go wrong.
“I have no idea,” she replied.

Then it dawned on me. Many of our fears and anxieties are based on what can go wrong. We should focus on the positive benefits of an intervention.

It’s just human nature. My mother is a retired general practitioner. She understands the benefits of cataract surgery, but was still focussed on what could go wrong.

My mother has mild cataracts. She can live with them for now, so I did not recommend surgery at the moment.

I suspect I will find it harder to convince her when they get more advanced and problematic.

If you have cataracts and fear having cataract surgery – you are not alone. If your cataracts are mild, then you could leave them. If they are severe, you may need to conquer your fear of surgery and have the operation.

Either way – a full explanation of the procedure, including the actual risks of surgery is often all that is needed to convince most of my patients that cataract surgery has great benefits.