Future looking bright for aging eyes

One thing has become clearer for the current crop of senior citizens — their eyesight.

A Northwestern Medicine study has found that there are fewer visual impairment problems reported amongst today’s elderly compared to those in the same demographic from generations previous. Published in the journal Ophthalmology, the report employs data derived via two population-based surveys (the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation) circulated from 1984 to 2010. Researchers identified that in 1984, 23 percent of elderly adults had trouble reading newspaper print due to ailing eyesight, but by 2010, only 9.7 percent divulged they has the same issue — all-in-all, the data relayed a staggering age-adjusted 58 percent decrease regarding that specific subset of visual impairment.

“The findings are exciting, because they suggest that currently used diagnostic and screening tools and therapeutic interventions for various ophthalmic diseases are helping to prolong the vision of elderly Americans,” said Angelo P. Tanna, MD, first author of the study. “From 1984 until 2010, the decrease in visual impairment in those 65 and older was highly statistically significant.”

A substantial decline in eyesight issues that prevented most elderly Americans from performing various lifestyle activities, including many in-home and personal hygiene functions, was also distinguishable in the study’s results. The inquiries utilized for the survey were designed with a keen eye toward understanding not only the physical impact a shoddy set of peepers can have on a patient’s life, but also the unseen emotional levy.

Although the study did not explicitly provide a reason behind this counteraction of the cataracts, Tanna speculated these three causes played a significant part in the declination:

  • improved techniques and outcomes for cataract surgery;
  • less smoking, resulting in a drop in the prevalence of macular degeneration; and
  • more readily available and improved treatments for diabetic eye diseases, despite the fact that the prevalence of diabetes has increased. 

Tanna suggested that future studies should set preventative parameters for seniors at risk and explore possible treatment strategies — said schemas should then be made accessible to as many people as possible.

The study was funded by grants from the Research to Prevent Blindness and by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education.