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Older Americans Experiencing Fewer Vision Problems

Eyelasses on a newspaper (Phil Roeder/Flickr)Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago and University of California in San Francisco say American senior citizens today are having fewer vision impairment problems than older Americans in the 1980s. Northwestern’s Angelo Tanna, a professor of ophthalmology, and UCSF’s Stephen Kaye, a health statistician, report their findings online in the journal Ophthalmology (paid subscription required).

Tanna and Kaye drew their data from two population-based surveys: the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, focusing on the period of 1984 through 2010. Survey questions examined the prevalence of vision problems affecting the daily activities and quality of life, which revealed trends in the extent of visual impairment among U.S. adults.

The findings show in 1984, some 23 percent of adults age 65 and older had difficulty reading or seeing newspaper print because of poor eyesight. By 2010, the researchers found an age-adjusted 58 percent decrease in reading difficulties from visual impairment, with only 9.7 percent of seniors reporting the problem. Among adults under 65, there was little change in visual impairments.

Tanna and Kaye found as well a decline in eyesight problems that limited older Americans from taking part in daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, or getting around inside or outside of the home. Tanna says the results “suggest that currently used diagnostic and screening tools and therapeutic interventions for various ophthalmic diseases are helping to prolong the vision of elderly Americans.”

While the study did not examine the reasons for this decline in reported vision problems, Tanna pointed to potential causes, such as better techniques and outcomes for cataract surgery than in the 1980s, a reduction in smoking leading to fewer cases of macular degeneration, and better and more widely available treatments for diabetic eye diseases, despite the increasing prevalence of diabetes.

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Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr

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