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Visual Impairments Are A Significant Health Risk For Seniors

October 13, 2009
A new study points to the importance of taking visual impairments among the elderly very seriously and taking the right steps to adapt to noncorrectable problems. According to a report in the October 2009 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, visual problems that cannot be corrected are associated with an increased risk of death among people between the ages of 49 and 74, and all visual impairments may be associated with the risk of death in older adults. There is also a correlation with factors that may lead to increased death such as unintentional injury, depression, lower body mass index (BMI), reduced walking speeds, increased risk of falls, self-reported difficulty in physical activity, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer, according to information in the article. "Correction for these ‘confounders’ has been found to attenuate the association between visual impairment and mortality, but the mechanisms behind the association between visual impairment and mortality remain to be determined." Michael J. Karpa, MBBS, BSc, of Westmead Millennium Institute, Sydney, Australia, and colleagues used data from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, which examined visual impairment in 3,654 participants age 49 and older between 1992 and 1994 and after 5 and 10 years, to evaluate the relationship between visual impairment and death risk among older individuals. At baseline, participants with noncorrectable visual impairment were more likely to be female, age 75 and older and underweight. Those with correctable visual impairment were more likely to be age 75 and older, but had no difference in proportions of women or BMI. Thirteen years after baseline, 1,273 participants had died. A higher risk of dying was associated with noncorrectable visual impairment, with a stronger association for participants younger than age 75. The analyses "revealed greater effects of noncorrectable visual impairment on mortality risk, with both direct and indirect effects," the authors write.