The wrong power glasses of many older people

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IMAGE: Lena Havstam Johansson, Ph.D. student of the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
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Credit: Photo by Elin Lindstrom

Overall, the vision of 70-year-old Swedes is good, but many could see even better. Six out of ten can improve their vision by getting glasses or changing the power of the glasses they already have, according to a new study by the University of Gothenburg.

“We are really healthy and have good eyesight in Sweden, and being 70 years old does not mean that your vision is poor. It is easy for an optician to check it, you can offer the right glasses or refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary,” says Lena Havstam Johansson, PhD student at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and ophthalmic nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

In the study, the vast majority of 70-year-olds were content with their eyesight, but many overestimated how well they really can see. More than half (61.5 percent) proved to be able to see considerably better by getting glasses or changing the power of those who already had.

“Visual impairment can be scary, making it difficult to notice that your eyes are getting worse. Therefore, it is a good idea to visit an optician regularly when you get older, even if you do not feel that your eyesight is deteriorating,” Havstam said. Johansson says.

The study shows that the way in which people perceive their own sight corresponds poorly with reality. Of those whose vision has deteriorated, most, however, consider their eyesight as good.

“Above all, it was the reduction in contrast sensitivity that made people think their eyesight was poor. Impaired visual acuity or visual field defects had less impact on how they perceived their own eyesight,” says Madeleine Zetterberg, Professor of ophthalmology at the University of Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg and co-author of the study.

The study covers 1,200 residents of Gothenburg who answered a “self-reported” morbidity questionnaire about how they perceived their eyesight and thought that their daily lives were being affected by vision problems.

In cooperation with a colleague, Lena Havstam Johansson also investigated the sight of almost half (560) of these 70-year-olds in several ways. They examined the central vision of the study participants (the part we use when we watch television or watch a painting, for example), their peripheral vision (the part that allows us to capture what happens outside our focus field), and their ability of perceiving contrasts (contrast sensitivity). In addition, the lens and retina of each study participant were photographed to detect eye diseases, if any.

Having incorrect power glasses was equally common in men and women in the study, but, in general, men had a slightly better view than women. This can be explained in part by the higher prevalence of cataracts among women in general. This was confirmed in the present study: just over 27 percent of women had cataracts, but only slightly more than 19 percent of men. Many of the respondents who demonstrated having cataracts already knew they had this eye disease, while others found out when they had an eye test. The most common eye disease among the participants in the study examined was cataract (23.4%), followed by age-related macular degeneration (AMD, 4.7%) and glaucoma (4.3%), while 1.4% had diabetic retinopathy (changes in the retina due to diabetes).

These and other findings of the present study were recently accepted for publication in the scientific journal. Ophthalmologica Act. The study is part of the H70 population-based study on aging and its diseases that has been carried out at the University of Gothenburg since the early 1970s. This H70 study provides an image of life trends and health among the common people of 70 years, and also allows comparing how aging has been for different generations.

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