While discussing the topic for this blog recently with a colleague, she told me about her grandmother, Mavis, who died last year at the age of 101. Although she felt many of the affects of aging in her later years, including impaired vision, Mavis continued to fill her life with the activities she loved; knitting, reading, and seeing her friends and family. On a personal level, her spirit kept her going. On a practical level, her eyeglasses played a role in ensuring her last years had a level of quality that made her days purposeful and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for all senior citizens. Vision problems not only leave many seniors unable to see clearly, they can also negatively impact a number of other areas of their lives, from their concentration to their enjoyment of their activities.
Studies show that seniors who have difficulty seeing are also at an increased risk for accidents, particularly falls, and that impaired vision can also lead to depression and anxiety in older people. Another study conducted in Britain in 2007 found that visually impaired people had a higher prevalence of depression compared with people with normal vision. Of visually impaired older people, 13.5% were depressed compared to 4.6% of people with normal vision.
These problems are predicted to worsen as the population ages. While the aging population is a global phenomenon, it’s particularly evident in Europe, where consistently low birth rates and higher life expectancy are causing a marked transition towards a much older population. In January 2016, the population of the EU was estimated to be at 510.3 million people – and 97 million or 19.2% of them were over age 65.
Not only is the population in general aging, but the number of people considered “very old” is growing at a faster pace than any other age segment of the EU’s population. The share of those aged 80 years and above in Europe is projected to more than double by 2080, from 5.4% to 12.7%. This phenomenon is not limited to Europe; the rest of the world is experiencing a similar trend.
While there is a clear case for action based on this information alone – no one, after all, wants their grandmother to lose interest in the things she loves – there is also a clear economic reason for us to focus on the vision of our seniors.
As more Europeans choose to age in place or without close relatives nearby, age-related vision problems and their resulting medical needs will not only have a personal impact on individuals, but a significant impact on health and social care services. A study conducted in France, Italy, Germany, and the UK estimates that average annual costs per individual affected by vision problems could grow to be between approximately €8.434 and €13.674. The main costs associated with impaired vision were loss of income, burden on the caretaker and paid assistance.
What should our response be to this growing problem? As we create awareness and advocate for healthy vision in both Europe and on a global scale, we must include the elderly in our collective conversation. Because the problem stretches beyond just vision, we know the solution will, too. It will take advocacy groups, governments, healthcare systems and caregivers working together to create greater awareness and a long-term solution for change. Let’s continue to work together – Giving Vision a Voice!