Existing estimates of the prevalence of vision impairment (VI) in the United States are based on self-reported survey data or measures of visual function that are at least 14 years old. Older adults are at high risk for VI and blindness. There is a need for up-to-date, objectively measured, national epidemiological estimates.
To present updated national epidemiological estimates of VI and blindness in older US adults based on objective visual function testing.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This survey study presents a secondary data analysis of the 2021 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), a population-based, nationally representative panel study of Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older. NHATS includes community-dwelling older adults or their proxies who complete in-person interviews; annual follow-up interviews are conducted regardless of residential status. Round 11 NHATS data were collected from June to November 2021, and data were analyzed in August 2022.
In 2021, NHATS incorporated tablet-based tests of distance and near visual acuity and contrast sensitivity with habitual correction.
Main Outcomes and Measures
National prevalence of impairment in presenting distance visual acuity (>0.30 logMAR, Snellen equivalent worse than 20/40), presenting near visual acuity (>0.30 logMAR, Snellen equivalent worse than 20/40), and contrast sensitivity (>1 SD below the sample mean). Prevalence estimates stratified by age and socioeconomic and demographic data were calculated.
In the 2021 round 11 NHATS sample, there were 3817 respondents. After excluding respondents who did not complete the sample person interview (n = 429) and those with missing vision data (n = 362), there were 3026 participants. Of these, 29.5% (95% CI, 27.3%-31.8%) were 71 to 74 years old, and 55.2% (95% CI, 52.8%-57.6%) were female respondents. The prevalence of VI in US adults 71 years and older was 27.8% (95% CI, 25.5%-30.1%). Distance and near visual acuity and contrast sensitivity impairments were prevalent in 10.3% (95% CI, 8.9%-11.7%), 22.3% (95% CI, 20.3%-24.3%), and 10.0% (95% CI, 8.5%-11.4%), respectively. Older age, less education, and lower income were associated with all types of VI. A higher prevalence of near visual acuity and contrast sensitivity impairments was associated with non-White race and Hispanic ethnicity.
Conclusions and Relevance
More than 1 in 4 US adults 71 years and older had VI in 2021, higher than prior estimates. Differences in the prevalence of VI by socioeconomic and demographic factors were observed. These data could inform public health planning.