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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Older people 'risking' sight loss
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of a woman having her eyes tested - photo courtesy of RNIB
It is often too late to remedy a problem once symptoms occur
Millions of older people in the UK who fail to have regular eye tests risk losing their sight, according to a leading charity.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has found that nearly half of the over 60s are not having annual tests.

Regular testing can pick up early signs of glaucoma, wet age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

The RNIB wants the government to make older people aware of the risks.

Don't wait until you notice changes in your vision to visit your optician
Barbara McLaughlan

"Age is the highest risk factor in developing some of the most common eye conditions that can lead to blindness," says RNIB campaigns manager, Barbara McLaughlan.

"Our message to people over 60 is simple: don't wait until you notice changes in your vision to visit your optician - get your eyes tested every year."

The RNIB based its findings on a survey conducted by Age Concern among 5,000 people aged between 60 and 89 throughout the UK.

The research found that although 70% of people understood that the main purpose of an eye test was to check for early symptoms of various eye conditions, this didn't necessarily encourage them to have one themselves.

Complacency concern

Those who had not had an eye test in the last two years were asked to state the reason, and most said it was because they did not have any problems with their eyes.

But the RNIB says that conditions like early-stage glaucoma have no symptoms and that up to 40% of a person's sight can be lost before they are aware of the problem.

And the charity points out that even minor deterioration in a person's sight can increase the likelihood of trips and falls, in older people, can lead to broken bones, and a spell in hospital.

Poor eye sight can also result in a person being unable to read the labels on medication and accidentally taking the wrong dose.

The report found three main reasons why older people are not having frequent eye tests:

  • The belief that there is nothing wrong
  • The cost of replacing glasses
  • Difficulty in getting to and from the optician's

Responding to the second and third of these, Ms McLaughlan said the cost of glasses should not be a reason not to have an eye test.

"If you're on a low income or on benefits you could be entitled to an NHS voucher to help towards the cost of glasses."

"And anyone who has difficulty getting out to have an eye test can have an optician visit them at home."

The RNIB advises anyone over 60 to have their sight checked annually.

Younger people should have an eye test every two years.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland free NHS eye tests are available every two years for people aged 60 - 69 and every year for the over 70s.

In Scotland, eye tests are free to people of all ages - annually for children and those over 60 and every two years for the rest of the population.

Massive take-up of free eye exams
26 Jun 07 |  Scotland


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