Purpose: To describe the change in visual acuity in a 10-year period.
Design: Population-based cohort study.
Participants: Included 3684 persons 43 to 86 years of age at the time of a baseline examination in 1988 to 1990, living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, at a follow-up examination in 1993 to 1995 and/or 1998 to 2000.
Methods: Best-corrected visual acuity was measured, after refraction, with logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution charts using a modification of the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study protocol.
Main outcomes measures: Doubling of the visual angle and incidence of visual impairment.
Results: The change in the mean number of letters read correctly over the 10-year period varied in the right eye from -0.9 (standard deviation [SD] = 5.5) and in the left eye from -1.2 (SD = 6.6) in people between 43 and 54 years of age to -11.0 (SD = 20.0) in the right eye and -12.6 (SD = 20.4) in the left eye in people 75 years of age or older (n = 184) at baseline. Over the 10-year period, 5.9% of the population had impaired vision (20/40 or worse in the better eye) develop, 0.8% had severe visual impairment (20/200 or worse in the better eye) develop, 4.8% had doubling of the visual angle, and 3.9% had improved vision. People who were 75 years of age or older at baseline were 15.0 times (95% confidence interval [CI], 10.9-20.6; P < 0.001) as likely to have impaired vision develop, 9.3 times (95% CI, 6.5-13.3; P < 0.001) as likely to have doubling of the visual angle, and 19.8 times as likely (95% CI, 8.4-46.4; P < or = 0.001) to have severe visual impairment develop than people younger than 75 years of age at baseline. For the 82 persons 75 years of age or older, currently residing in a nursing or group home at follow-up, they were 2.6 times (95% CI, 1.45-4.52) as likely to have impaired vision develop, 1.6 times (95% CI, 0.47-5.62) as likely to have severely impaired vision develop, and 3.6 times (95% CI, 1.96-6.78) as likely to have had a doubling of the visual angle than those not residing in a nursing or group home at follow-up.
Conclusions: These data provide precise population-based estimates of the 10-year incidence of loss of vision over a wide spectrum of ages and show that decreased visual acuity in people 75 years of age after 10 years is a common finding, especially in those who are admitted to nursing or group homes.