A recent study found that American adults aged 65 and older have better vision compared to the same age group from about a decade ago. In 2008, 8.3% of those aged 65 and older reported serious vision impairment, while in 2017, that number fell to 6.6%.
Furthermore, this study found that racial and ethnic disparities in vision health have decreased. Black and Hispanic Americans over 65 showed greater decrease in vision impairments between 2008 and 2017 compared to Non-Hispanic White Americans. Pharmacy student ZhiDi (Judy) Deng speculates that this may be due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act which led to many Hispanic and Black Americans being medically insured.
Deng states, "While it is heartening to see the racial disparities improving over the decade, targeted outreach and improved access to affordable vision care for racialized groups is still urgently needed to effectively eliminate the gap." Deng highlights that although eye care is moving in the right direction for racial equality, more work still needs to be done.
Moreover, the largest vision improvement occurred in those aged 85 and older. For this age group, a 26% decrease in the odds of vision impairment was recorded. Unfortunately, one can not assume if this trend will continue. The senior author of the study, Esme Fuller Thompson, states that as the Baby Boom cohort ages into their late 70s and 80s, the pace of the downward trend in the future may not be the same as that seen from 2008 to 2017.
In addition, the gap of vision impairment between men and women narrowed over the decade. Women had a 21% decrease in the odds of vision impairment, while men had a 9% decrease. It is not clear why there was such a difference between the two genders, but previous research suggests that it could be because women are more likely than men to visit eye care professionals.
All of these findings have very positive implications. One of the major causes of age-related disability are vision problems, and serious vision impairment can impact the quality of life. Furthermore, the cost of treatment for vision impairment in America is very high.
The reason for such dramatic decreases found in this study is unknown. However, the authors of the study hypothesize many causes, including advances in medical interventions for vision problems, and improvements in air pollution. More research is needed to determine the real reason behind the trends.