Background: In the context of population aging, visual impairment has emerged as a growing concern in public health. However, there is a need for further research into the relationship between visual impairment and chronic medical conditions in the elderly. The aim of our study was to examine the relationship between visual impairment and three main types of co-morbidity: chronic physical conditions (both at an independent and additive level), mental health and cognitive functioning.
Methods: Data were collected from the COURAGE in Europe project, a cross-sectional study. A total of 4,583 participants from Spain were included. Diagnosis of chronic medical conditions included self-reported medical diagnosis and symptomatic algorithms. Depression and anxiety were assessed using CIDI algorithms. Visual assessment included objective distance/near visual acuity and subjective visual performance. Descriptive analyses included the whole sample (n = 4,583). Statistical analyses included participants aged over 50 years (n = 3,625; mean age = 66.45 years) since they have a significant prevalence of chronic conditions and visual impairment. Crude and adjusted binary logistic regressions were performed to identify independent associations between visual impairment and chronic medical conditions, physical multimorbidity and mental conditions. Covariates included age, gender, marital status, education level, employment status and urbanicity.
Results: The number of chronic physical conditions was found to be associated with poorer results in both distance and near visual acuity [OR 1.75 (CI 1.38-2.23); OR 1.69 (CI 1.27-2.24)]. At an independent level, arthritis, stroke and diabetes were associated with poorer distance visual acuity results after adjusting for covariates [OR 1.79 (CI 1.46-2.21); OR 1.59 (CI 1.05-2.42); OR 1.27 (1.01-1.60)]. Only stroke was associated with near visual impairment [OR 3.01 (CI 1.86-4.87)]. With regard to mental health, poor subjective visual acuity was associated with depression [OR 1.61 (CI 1.14-2.27); OR 1.48 (CI 1.03-2.13)]. Both objective and subjective poor distance and near visual acuity were associated with worse cognitive functioning.
Conclusions: Arthritis, stroke and the co-occurrence of various chronic physical diseases are associated with higher prevalence of visual impairment. Visual impairment is associated with higher prevalence of depression and poorer cognitive function results. There is a need to implement patient-centered care involving special visual assessment in these cases.