Millions of pensioners needlessly risk depression and bad falls

Study finds that failing to care for ageing eyes has major impact on physical and emotional well-being of older people.

Pensioners who fail to have regular eye tests risk depression and feel isolated and vulnerable according to a shocking new report(1) launched to mark 'National Eye Week' (10-16 December, 2007).

The 'Sight after Sixty' report commissioned by national sight charity, the Eyecare Trust(2) and the Central (LOC) Fund(3), found that one in three OAPs who missed out on regular sight checks said the quality of their vision causes them to feel depressed and vulnerable.

A massive 96% of the population aged 60 plus require some form of vision correction(4). However, more than four million OAPs across the UK are missing out on vital NHS sight tests every year – despite more than a quarter of those surveyed saying the quality of their vision restricts their daily routine and more than half are prevented from reading books and magazines.

Fear of cost seems to be a major barrier to many older people caring for their eyes, as 30% of those surveyed believed it would “cost a lot of money” - even though eye examinations for the over 60s have been free on the NHS since April 1999. Vouchers to assist with the cost of spectacles or contact lenses are also available for people on low incomes and those requiring complex lenses.

Iain Anderson, chairman of the Eyecare Trust, comments: “Good vision is so often a key factor in the elderly maintaining their dignity and independence. A simple sight test could help improve the quality of life for millions of pensioners. It’s unforgivable that elderly people are left feeling depressed and vulnerable when sight loss in older people is often avoidable.”

Iain continues: “Poor vision is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. Almost a third of all visual impairment in people aged over 75 is solely caused by wearing the wrong glasses or no glasses at all. Regular eye examinations are also vital to ensure the early detection of a range of age-related eye conditions that can often be easily managed. Eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, a new prescription and low vision aids are all simple ways in which people can help maintain and preserve their vision.”

The report also found that those people who failed to have regular eye examinations had a low awareness of age-related eye conditions and believed they were not at risk of sight loss. Only half of those surveyed had heard of age-related macular degeneration, the biggest cause of blindness in the UK, and just one on 10 were aware of presbyopia – a condition that reduces our ability to focus and affects more than 25 million people nationwide.

The actress and author, Nanette Newman, has lent her support to the National Eye Week campaign to highlight the benefits of good eye care for the over 60s. She said: “I feel passionate about the role that good eye care plays in helping the elderly maintain their dignity and independence. I’ve seen the benefits of caring for my own eyes – I hope you will too!”

Further research(5) has shown how 75% of older people who suffer a fall as a result of poor vision had a visual impairment that was easily correctable. "So don’t be a fall guy," says Iain Anderson. "If you’re aged 60 or over, make sure you have regular eye examinations on the NHS."

For further information about eye care for the over 60s and the 'Sight after Sixty - it’s your right' campaign, see


(1) The 'Sight After Sixty' survey was conducted by Shape the Future in October 2007.

(2) The Eyecare Trust is a registered charity that exists to promote awareness of ocular health and the importance of good eye care.

(3) The Central (LOC) Fund exists to provide finance for long-term and single issues which are considered to be of benefit for the ophthalmic profession as a whole.

(4) General Household Survey

(5) Jack CI, et al. Gerentology.

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