Vision Loss Increases Mortality Risk


Oct 14, 2014 by British Blog

Vision loss may be a common sign of aging, but new research has suggested that it could also indicate a greater risk of death in older adults. The eight year long study, which was funded by the National Eye Institute, concluded that even a moderate decline in visual ability could result in a 31 per cent increase in mortality.

Previous research has suggested that poorer ocular health is linked to an increased risk of mortality. Studies have found that elderly individuals suffer from a 10 per cent reduction in their ability to perform instrumental activities of daily living with every annual eye examination.

However, due to a lack of information on changes in the participants’ visual acuity and functionality as they age, the relationship between sight loss and death risk was not fully understood. 

To evaluate the health risks of visual impairment, researchers analysed data collected from the Salisbury Eye Evaluation study. A total of 2,520 participants between the ages of 65 and 84 were tracked from September 1993 through to July 2003, undergoing reassessment at two, six and eight year intervals throughout the study.

The researchers discovered that in general terms, the decline in visual ability showed a link to an increased risk of death, due partially to the individual’s decreased ability to perform instrumental activities of daily living. Those who experienced increasing difficulty in performing these daily activities had a three per cent greater risk of death annually. Throughout the entire eight-year long study period, these individuals showed a massive 31 per cent increase in death risk.



Sharon Christ, an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University, which conducted the research in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Miami, stated that impaired visual response had an impact on the day-to-day lives of older individuals, which made them more prone to the threat of death.

“Participants who experienced visual decline of one letter on an eye chart were expected to have a 16 per cent increase in mortality risk during the eight year study because their vision affected daily activities,” said Dr Christ.

“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,” she added. “When individuals were no longer able to engage in these activities because of visual impairments, their life expectancy was reduced.”



While sensory impairment is often just an unfortunate truth of the ageing process, visual deterioration can also be a sign of other issues in older age. Today’s elderly population are much more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, which also contributes to ocular issues.

This is particularly worrisome, as one in 17 people in the UK suffer from diabetes. Last year, 3.2 million people were diagnosed with the disease, and by 2025 that figure is expected to grow to five million. It is estimated that around 630,000 people in the UK have diabetes but are undiagnosed. 

With diabetes commonly causing damage in blood vessels in the retina, known as diabetic retinopathy, as well as worsening conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, detection and treatment is essential in improving overall health.

“What we found reinforces the value of visual care through the life course,” concluded Dr Christ. “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.”