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Older Americans are reporting fewer serious eyesight problems today than they were a generation ago, according to a new study published in the journal of Ophthalmology recently. The researchers suggest improvements in healthcare such as cataract surgery and lower rates of a macular degeneration may be the main reasons.
First author Dr Angelo P. Tanna, from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, told the press on Wednesday:
"From 1984 until 2010, the decrease in visual impairment in those 65 and older was highly statistically significant."
But he and his co-author, Dr Stephen Kaye, of the Institute for Health & Aging and Disability Statistics Center, University of California, found little change in visual impairments among adults under 65.
Tanna, who is vice chairman of ophthalmology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, described the findings as "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".
Tanna and Kaye examined self-reported data collected via two major population-based surveys, the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation between 1984 and 2010. These surveys sample between 80,000 and 160,000 non-institutionalized adults every year.
The researchers found:
The data did not allow the researchers to investigate the possible causes of these improvements.
But Tanna suggests three likely reasons. One is improvements in cataract surgery, another is falling numbers of smokers, which reduces prevalence of macular degeneration, and the third is treatments for diabetic eye disease are much better and more readily available now, even though the number of people with diabetes has gone up.
Tanna called for further studies to find the best ways to prevent vision problems in older adults and then for decisionmakers to make those available to as many people as possible.
Funds from the Research to Prevent Blindness and by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, US Department of Education paid for the study.
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