Background: Visual impairment is common in older people and the presence of additional health conditions can compromise health and rehabilitation outcomes. A small number of studies have suggested that comorbities are common in visual impairment; however, those studies have relied on self-report and have assessed a relatively limited number of comorbid conditions.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of a dataset of 291,169 registered patients (65-years-old and over) within 314 primary care practices in Scotland, UK. Visual impairment was identified using Read Code ever recorded for blindness and/or low vision (within electronic medical records). Prevalence, odds ratios (from prevalence rates standardised by stratifying individuals by age groups (65 to 69 years; 70 to 74; 75 to 79; 80 to 84; and 85 and over), gender and deprivation quintiles) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) of 37 individual chronic physical/mental health conditions and total number of conditions were calculated and compared for those with visual impairment to those without.
Results: Twenty seven of the 29 physical health conditions and all eight mental health conditions were significantly more likely to be recorded for individuals with visual impairment compared to individuals without visual impairment, after standardising for age, gender and social deprivation. Individuals with visual impairment were also significantly more likely to have more comorbidities (for example, five or more conditions (odds ratio (OR) 2.05 95% CI 1.94 to 2.18)).
Conclusions: Patients aged 65 years and older with visual impairment have a broad range of physical and mental health comorbidities compared to those of the same age without visual impairment, and are more likely to have multiple comorbidities. This has important implications for clinical practice and for the future design of integrated services to meet the complex needs of patients with visual impairment, for example, embedding depression and hearing screening within eye care services.