Older women with bad vision at greater death risk
Older women with poor eyesight have a greater likelihood of dying over a given period than similar women with better vision, a new study shows.
Vision loss occurs with aging, and is known to increase the risk of falls and fractures, Kathryn L. Pedula of Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon and colleagues note in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers investigated whether poor vision in and of itself had any effect on mortality by following 9,704 women 65 and older for 12 years. The women were tested for their visual acuity while wearing glasses, if they used them, as well as their contrast sensitivity—that is, their ability to identify small differences between objects that were not black or white.
During the follow-up period, 3,427 of the women died. Those with the least accurate vision were 19 percent more likely to die than those with the best vision, Pedula and her team found. Those with the least sensitivity to contrast were 39 percent more likely to die than those with the best contrast sensitivity.
Loss of contrast sensitivity is related to accidents, impaired night driving ability, and falls and fractures, the researchers note. The women with impaired contrast perception were 2.4 times more likely to die from a traumatic cause than other women.
The relationship between impaired vision and death risk remained even after the researchers accounted for factors that could influence both sight and mortality, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and age.
It may be that simply correcting vision problems could reduce mortality among older women, the researchers note, although it is also possible that vision loss signals another, unrecognized health problem. Nevertheless, they add, identifying and correcting vision problems may help older people avoid accidents and falls, and thus possibly prevent deaths from injuries.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, December 2006.
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