Improved cataract surgery techniques have helped drive a decline in the number of seniors with debilitating vision problems from just a generation ago, new research shows.
Northwestern University researchers have found the number of seniors who report having difficulty reading or seeing newspaper print has declined by more than half since the 1980s.
"From 1984 until 2010, the decrease in visual impairment in those 65 and older was highly statistically significant," said lead researcher Dr. Angelo P. Tanna. "There was little change in visual impairments in adults under the age of 65."
Tanna and his colleagues credited improved techniques for cataract surgery and a reduction in the prevalence of macular degeneration – a leading cause of blindness in the elderly – as the driving forces behind the change. They also said declines in smoking prevalence and an increase in treatment options for diabetic eye diseases are also likely contributing factors
The study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, found that in 1984, 23 percent of seniors had difficulty reading newspaper articles because of poor eyesight. By 2010, only 9.7 percent of elderly Americans reported the problem -- a 58 percent decrease.
Researchers also noted a substantial decline in eyesight problems that limit older Americans from taking part in daily activities, such as bathing, dressing or getting around inside or outside of the home.
"The findings are 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 said.
The study was based on self-reported information collected from 1984 to 2010 through two major population-based surveys, the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.