Older Americans See Debilitating Eyesight Problems Begin to Decline

Posted by Admin on August 10, 2012
Senior citizens are now reporting fewer eyesight problems than their counterparts from a generation ago, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study. Improved techniques for cataracts surgery and a reduction in macular degeneration incidence may be the main forces behind this change.

According to first author of the study, Angelo Tanna, MD, "From 1984 until 2010, the decrease in visual impairment in those 65 and older was highly statistically significant. There was little change in visual impairments in adults under the age of 65."

Published in the journal of Ophthalmology, the study shows that in 1984, 23 percent of elderly adults had trouble reading or seeing newspaper print because of poor eyesight. By 2010, there was an age-adjusted 58 percent decrease in this type of visual impairment, with only 9.7 percent of elderly individuals reporting the problem.

There was also a large decline in the kinds of visual impairment that limited elderly Americans from taking part in daily activities like bathing, dressing, or moving about the home, according to the study.

The study used self-reported data collected from the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, ranging from 1984 to 2010.

Survey responses revealed how vision issues can affect the daily activities and quality of life for elderly Americans. Researchers were also able to analyze trends in the prevalence of vision problems in adults.

Although the study didn’t pinpoint any of the origins of the change in the prevalence of visual impairment, first author, Dr. Angelo Tanna said there are three likely causes for the decline. First, improvements in cataract surgery have led to better patient outcomes. Second, a decline in smoking has resulted in a drop in macular degeneration prevalence. And third, treatments for diabetic eye diseases are more readily available and improved, despite the fact that diabetes prevalence has spiked in recent decades.

Tanna concludes that future studies should determine which treatment strategies should help prevent visual impairment in older adults and then asses how to make those treatments available to as many people as possible.

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