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New Study Assesses Incidence and Impact of Visual Impairment Among Older Adults

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

Over the last few decades, as the population has continued to age, the prevalence of vision loss has increased markedly. A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology confirms this trend, reporting that 27.8 percent of adults over the age of 71 have a visual impairment (VI). This is the most comprehensive study published on this subject in 14 years. These findings are “based on objective assessments of visual function with habitual correction in the 2021 nationally representative National Health and Aging Trends Study, which surveys Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older.” More specifically, 10.3 percent of adults have a distance impairment, 22.3 percent have a near visual acuity impairment, and ten percent have contrast sensitivity impairment. Lower income, less education, non-Caucasian race, Hispanic ethnicity, and older age all correlate with a higher prevalence of VI. The study involved 3,026 participants, 55.2 percent of whom were female; 29.5 percent were between 71 and 74 years of age. Significantly, this research shows that this VI persists even when wearing eyeglasses, contact lenses, or other devices. Lead author Olivia J. Killeen, M.D., a Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Michigan Medicine, stated, “‘These findings are important to address, as poor vision is associated with several adverse outcomes for older adults, including depression, dementia, falls, motor vehicle accidents, and even death.” Senior author Joshua Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H, assistant professor in Michigan Medicine’s  Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, added, “‘The up-to-date data presented in this study are vital for informing surveillance of vision health in the U.S. and may enable public health programs to target those at highest risk of poor vision.’” You can read more in an article from Michigan Medicine summarizing the study and in the study’s abstract in JAMA Ophthalmology.