If someone wants to help an older friend or family member live a long life, encourage that senior citizen to get his or her eyes examined and take care of vision problems as they arise.
Seeing well is linked to independence and self-care, both important for a long life, according to research from Purdue University that says not seeing well can lead to earlier death in older people.
The research was published this week in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
In background material, the researchers wrote, "Our findings have multiple implications. First, these findings reinforce the need for the primary prevention of visual impairment. … Moreover, the early detection of disabling eye diseases is suboptimal in the U.S. health care system, leading to otherwise preventable visual impairment. Finally, many Americans live with visual impairment that is correctable through the proper fitting of glasses or contact lenses. A second implication of our findings suggests that when uncorrectable visual impairment is present, helping affected individuals maintain robust instrumental activities of daily living is important.”
Susan Scutti of Medical Daily explains the impacted daily activities this way: "You probably do not think very often about what it means to live as an independent adult, but it requires you to be able to shop for groceries, prepare meals, do laundry and perform light housework...."
The researchers used data collected for the Salisbury Eye Evaluation to see how much impact vision loss has on the risk for death. They examined information collected from 2,520 people ages 65 to 84 during the decade between 1993 and 2003. The eye evaluation had re-examined participants two, six and eight years after the beginning of the study.
Those who lost some of their ability to independently complete routine daily activities saw "an increase in mortality risk that was 3 percent greater annually and 31 percent greater during the eight-year study period" compared to those who did not lose their ability to care for themselves. The loss of ability to see one letter on an acuity chart corresponded to a "16 percent increase in mortality risk during the eight-year study because of associated declines" in activity levels and independence, the researchers said.
"The probability of an elderly person losing their ability to perform IADL was reduced by up to 10 percent with each additional annual eye examination visit," Scutti wrote.
"Reducing the risk may be as simple as getting an eye exam and new glasses or contact lenses," lead researcher Sharon Christ of Purdue told NPR's Shots blog. "It's really important to deal with impairment and make sure you're getting the eye care that you need."
Wrote NPR's Nancy Shute, "People with vision problems that can't be corrected should get help with tasks of everyday life, Christ says, and be encouraged to remain physically active, postponing those functional declines for as long as possible."
The National Institute on Aging has resources on vision care and information about common eye problems. Retinal disorders, it says, are a chief cause of blindness in America. Retinal disorders that affect aging eyes include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment. The latter is a major emergency, but all should be treated promptly, it said.