Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine the association of sociodemographic factors with functional blindness and visual impairment in an aged population.
Methods: Three population-based cohorts (East Boston, MA; New Haven, CT; and Iowa and Washington Counties, IA) of persons aged 71 years and older were screened for bilateral functional near and distant vision during an in-home interview in 1988.
Results: Screening was completed by 5335 participants. The prevalence of functional blindness increased with age, from 1% at age 71 to 74 years to 17% in those 90 years of age and older. Functional visual impairment increased from 7% at age 71 to 74 years to 39% in those 90 years of age and older. In multivariate analyses, residence in a nursing home, older age, glaucoma, insulin-requiring diabetes at baseline, East Boston site, history of cataract, and lower 1982 income were independent and significantly associated with both functional blindness and visual impairment. Age and nursing home residence were significantly (P < 0.05) more strongly associated with blindness (odds ratios 4.8 and 6.1, respectively) than they were with visual impairment.
Conclusion: Functional blindness and visual impairment are quite prevalent among the oldest old and the institutionalized. The number of affected individuals will increase as the population ages and life expectancy increases. Although visual problems are associated with aging, nursing home residence, health problems, and socioeconomic conditions, they may be readily remediable and may lead to immediate improvements in quality of life.