Older adults losing vision as they age are more likely to face an increased mortality risk, according to new research from Purdue Univ.

“Participants who experienced visual decline of one letter on an eye chart were expected to have a 16 percent increase in mortality risk during the eight-year study because their vision affected daily activities,” said Sharon Christ, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “These daily activities were not the necessary functioning activities such as bathing, dressing and eating, but rather instrumental daily activities, such as telephone use, shopping and preparing their own meals. When individuals were no longer able to engage in these activities because of visual impairments, their life expectancy was reduced.”

The findings are published in JAMA Ophthalmology. The researchers analyzed data from the Salisbury Eye Evaluation study that tracked the vision health of 2,520 older adults, ages 65 to 84. The research was funded by the National Eye Institute.

Previous research shows poorer ocular health is related to increased mortality risk, but the mechanisms of this relationship were not clear because they were limited by a lack of information regarding changes in visual acuity and in functioning as people age, Christ said. In this study, they were able to measure vision level as well as the rate at which it declined.

Sensory impairments, such as vision health, often deteriorate as people age, but today’s older adults also have higher incidences of Type 2 diabetes, which can create additional ocular problems.

“What we found reinforces the value of visual care through the life course,” Christ said. “Older individuals will benefit from early-detection services and as well as care to fix what are often correctable visual problems. A renewed focus on ocular health could save lives.”

Source: Purdue Univ.