Why don't older adults in England go to have their eyes examined?

Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2014 Jan;34(1):38-45. doi: 10.1111/opo.12100.


Purpose: Preventable sight loss is one of the Public Health Outcome Indicators in England. Despite availability of NHS-funded eye examinations, many people do not take up their entitlement. This paper explores older adults understanding of eye health and the purpose of eye examinations and the reasons why they do or do not attend for eye examinations. The aim is to provide evidence to inform policy on increasing uptake of eye examinations among older people who have increased risk of preventable sight loss.

Methods: 10 focus-group meetings were held with people living in deprived areas of Leeds, recruited via community groups and neighbourhood networks. Focus groups were transcribed and a thematic analysis approach was used.

Results: The majority of participants were aged over 60, wore spectacles, and had regular eye examinations. Most were eligible for a NHS-funded eye examination. There was poor knowledge about eye disease and the purpose of different elements of the eye examination. Participants felt very vulnerable about getting the tests 'wrong' and looking foolish. Wearing of spectacles was associated with appearing old and frail. Many did not trust the veracity of optometrists, and perceived opticians to be expensive places, where it was difficult to control spending. Many had experienced 'hard sell' and opaque pricing. Most, but not all, were happy with the optometric services received. Participants indicated a preference for utilising a local optometrist located alongside other familiar health care services.

Conclusion: Not-for-profit services co-located with other public services are needed to address concerns about cost of spectacles, lack of trust in optometrists, and poor access to eye examinations in local settings. It will also be important to raise public understanding about the purpose of eye examinations in terms of other causes of preventable sight loss and not just refractive error and need for spectacles.

Keywords: barriers; eye examination; older people; uptake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • England
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Optometry*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*