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Monday, 1 June, 1998, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Elderly turn a blind eye to vision problems
Many vision problems can be solved with expert treatment
Elderly people are not seeking treatment for poor eyesight
Many elderly people with bad eyesight could be successfully treated but fail to contact eye specialists.

Researchers surveyed a random sample of 1,547 patients aged 65 and over from 17 general practices in north London.

They found that more than half the sample (52%) had impaired vision in one or both eyes, but that the problems were potentially remediable through spectacles or surgery in 69% of cases.

Three out of ten people had poor vision in both eyes, and in those cases 72% could have been treated.

Not in touch

Cataracts were found to be the cause of poor vision in 30% of cases, but 88% of those people were not in touch with the eye services. Cataracts can cause blindness if untreated, but sight can be restored.

Eye specialists were also unaware of three quarters of the 3% of people in the study who were found to have glaucoma, a disease in which pressure builds up in the eyeball, causing irreversible blindness if left unchecked. Another 7% of those surveyed were suspected of suffering from glaucoma - a disease with no obvious symptoms.

In total, almost nine out of ten people who could have benefited from treatment had not sought help. The results of the study have been published in the British Medical Journal.

Unsatisfactory situation

Report co-author Dr Darwin Minassian, of the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, said the problem was particularly acute in deprived areas.

He said: "Obviously this is not a satisfactory situation as many people might well benefit from treatment, particularly those with visual impairment in both eyes from cataracts.

"It seems that some people have a peculiar perspective on the extent to which their vision has diminished and on the point at which help should be sought. This is especially true when vision is going down gradually and the problem is limited to one eye. There is also uncertainty about the treatment and its outcome."

Dr Minassian called for action to improve eye health services. He said there could be greater teamwork with other primary care health professionals, such as GPs.

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