Background: Although the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment increases with age, most surveys of ocular disease do not include nursing home residents.
Methods: We conducted a population-based prevalence survey of persons 40 years of age or older residing in nursing homes in the Baltimore area. Of 738 eligible subjects in 30 nursing homes, 499 (67.6 percent) participated in the study. They had their eyes examined and their visual acuity tested and were interviewed in detail. The nonparticipants were more likely to be older, to be white, and to have lower scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination.
Results: The prevalence of bilateral blindness (visual acuity < or = 20/200) was 17.0 percent. The prevalence of visual impairment (< 20/40 but > 20/200) was 18.8 percent. The frequency of blindness increased from 15.2 percent among those under 60 years of age to 28.6 percent among those 90 or older. The age-adjusted prevalence of blindness was 50 percent higher among blacks than among whites (P < 0.01). As compared with the noninstitutionalized population from the same communities, the rate of blindness among nursing home residents was 13.1 times higher for blacks and 15.6 times higher for whites. Cataract was the leading cause of blindness, followed by corneal opacity, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. We judged that 20 percent of the functional blindness and 37 percent of the visual impairment could be remedied by adequate refractive correction.
Conclusions: Blindness and visual impairment are highly prevalent among nursing home residents. Much of this loss of vision could be treated or prevented with appropriate ophthalmologic care.