In a study of Alabama nursing home residents, more than half were visually impaired yet two-thirds had no record of or reference to an eye examination in their medical charts, according to a report in the July issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.
Previous studies have estimated that nursing home residents have visual impairment rates anywhere from three to 15 times higher than adults of the same age living in the community, according to background information in the article. "Reasons for these high vision impairment rates among nursing home residents are not fully understood," the authors write. "A variety of factors may contribute, including that persons with vision impairment may be more likely to be admitted to nursing homes, nursing home residents may have limited accessibility to doctors' offices because of lack of transportation and escort availability, residents may not wear spectacles even though they have them, family and health care professionals may believe that cognitively impaired persons do not personally benefit from treatments to improve vision and there is a shortage of eye care professionals who routinely serve clientele living in nursing homes."
Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham assessed 380 individuals age 55 or older living at 17 nursing homes in the Birmingham area for visual impairment. Each resident and a family member or guardian was interviewed about the use of eyeglasses and eye care. "Medical records provided information on demographics, chronic medical conditions, date of last eye examination, duration of residence in the nursing home and health insurance," the authors write. All 17 facilities had licensed optometrists who regularly visited the facility to provide eye care services.
A total of 57 percent of the residents were visually impaired, defined as having visual acuity of worse than 20/40 in the better eye. This compares with rates of approximately 10 percent to 20 percent among adults 60 or older living in the community nationwide. Three-fourths of the participants had abnormal binocular contrast sensitivity, or the ability to detect boundaries between objects and changes in brightness, which is important for mobility and reading.
"It appears that routine eye care may not be taking place for a substantial segment of the nursing home residents in our sample, as implied by our data in several ways," the authors write. Although 90 percent of the residents had some form of health insurance, 66 percent of them had no reference to eye examinations in their medical records. When asked about their most recent eye exam, 28 percent said it was in the previous year, 20 percent indicated that it was more than two years ago or used words indicating that it was a very long time ago, and one-third did not know.
"Information about the extent to which this visual impairment is remediable was unavailable to the study, so whether high visual impairment rates can be interpreted as underutilization of routine eye care may be questionable. Yet some credence is lent to this possibility based on a previous study estimating that 37 percent of the visual impairment and 20 percent of the blindness among nursing home residents is remediable by refractive error correction," the authors conclude. "These findings underscore the need to better understand the causes of high visual impairment rates in nursing home residents and to evaluate interventions to improve the visual status of this population."
Reference: Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125(7):925-930.
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.
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