Correcting poor vision in nursing home residents may decrease symptoms of depression

November 12, 2007

Nursing home residents who received eyeglasses for uncorrected refractive error were found to have improved quality of life and decreased symptoms of depression when compared to those with refractive error who had not received eyeglasses, according to a report in the November issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Refractive error occurs when the proper degree of light does not reach the back of the eye, resulting in blurred vision. "Nursing home residents in the United States and other industrialized countries have high rates of vision impairment, with estimates ranging from three to 15 times higher than corresponding rates for community-dwelling older adults," according to background information in the article. "Studies suggest that vision impairment in about one-third of nursing home residents could largely be reversed by treatment of uncorrected refractive error (myopia [nearsightedness], hyperopia [farsightedness], presbyopia [loss of focus])."

Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham conducted a trial in which 142 nursing home residents age 55 or older were assigned to a group that would receive eyeglasses one week after check-up (78 residents) or a group that would receive eyeglasses at follow-up two months after check-up (64 residents). Vision-related quality-of-life and depressive symptoms were measured at baseline and at two months.

At baseline, both groups had similar demographic and medical characteristics and had similar visual acuity and refractive error uncorrected by eyeglasses. After two months, distance and near visual acuity for the right and left eye improved in the group that received eyeglasses, while the group that had not received eyeglasses had no change in visual acuity.

At the two-month follow-up, the group that received eyeglasses reported higher scores for general vision, reading, activities and hobbies and social interaction as well as fewer depressive symptoms.

"This study implies that there are significant, short-term quality-of-life and psychological benefits to providing the most basic of eye care services--namely, spectacle correction--to older adults residing in nursing homes," the authors conclude. "These findings underscore the need for a systematic evaluation of the factors underlying the pervasive unavailability of eye care to nursing home residents in the United States so that steps can be taken to improve service delivery and eye care utilization."
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(Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125(11):1471-1477. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This research was supported by the Retirement Research Foundation, the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, the Pearle Vision Foundation, a National Institutes of Health grant and Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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