Fewer Seniors Visually Impaired

More seniors retaining eyesight as they age

(RxWiki News) Just 25 years ago, nearly a quarter of older adults had difficulty reading a newspaper because of poor eyesight. That number has dropped substantially in recent years.

Researchers suggest the dramatic reduction in visual impairments among older adults are, in part, related to improved techniques for cataract surgery and a drop in prevalence of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss among senior citizens.

"Seek regular eye exams to identify vision loss early."

Angelo P. Tanna, MD, first author of the study and vice chairman of ophthalmology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that the decrease in the number of individuals over the age of 65 with visual impairments was highly significant.

He called the findings exciting because it suggests currently used diagnostic and screening tools and therapeutic interventions are helping prolong the vision of elderly Americans. There were no changes found among the number of adults under the age of 65 with visual impairments.

Researchers used self-reported data from two large population-based surveys, the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, collected between 1984 and 2010. The studies identified how visual impairments impact the quality of life of Americans.

They found that while 23 percent of older adults had trouble reading a newspaper because of a visual impairment in 1984, that number dropped to 10 percent by 2010.

The study did not determine reasons for the decline, but Dr. Tanna suggested it may be attributed to improved outcomes for cataract surgery and less smoking, causing a drop in cases of macular degeneration. Improved and more readily available treatments for diabetes-related eye diseases also may have contributed to the decline, he said.

Dr. Tanna suggested future studies should pinpoint which treatment strategies help prevent vision loss in older patients so that those therapies can be made widely available.

Dr. Christopher Quinn, an optometrist with Omni Eye Associates, said he could not personally confirm the trend. However, he suggested the actual number of older patients coping with vision limitations is likely to be increasing as the percentage of older adults grows.

"Certainly, improvements in technology, medications and surgical techniques may be acting in concert to lower the rate of visual impairment," Dr. Quinn said.

"Additionally, the study points to some larger general health related factors such as reduced smoking as possible contributors to the improved rate of visual impairment. Finally, it may be that improved access to eye care professionals and an increased awareness on the importance of routine comprehensive eye examinations may be leading to earlier detection and intervention in preventing the most serious complications of common eye disease."

The study was recently published in journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Review Date: 
July 17, 2012