Sight loss comes with higher risk of death: study

Vision loss has dire consequences, including dementia, depression and impaired cognitive ability.

Nick Beare 3 minute read March 9, 2021

Recent research connected imparied vision with cognitive issues and a higher risk of death. Getty

New meta-analysis published in The Lancet Global Health suggests that those with more severe vision impairment have a higher risk of all-cause mortality compared to those that had normal vision or mild vision impairment.

The research included 48,000 people from 17 different studies and found that the risk of mortality was 29 per cent higher for participants with mild vision impairment, compared to normal vision. That risk increases to 89 per cent for those with severe vision impairment. According to the study, the impacts of vision impairment and blindness include an increased risk of falls, cognitive impairment and dementia, depression, disability, and loss of independence.

Those numbers are put into greater perspective when some studies predict the number of people with blindness will almost triple in the next 30 years as the population ages. The number of people with moderate to severe vision impairment is expected to double in that span.

Sadly, four of five cases of vision impairment are preventable or could be corrected as the WHO lists the global leading causes of blindness or vision loss as cataracts and the unmet need for glasses.

“It’s important these issues are addressed early on because losing your vision affects more than just how you see the world; it affects your experience of the world and your life,” said the study’s lead author Josh Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H. “This analysis provides an important opportunity to promote not only health and wellbeing, but also longevity by correcting, rehabilitating, and preventing avoidable vision loss across the globe.”

In Canada, an estimated 1.5 millions people identify themselves as having sight loss and an estimated 5.59 million more have a condition that could cause sight loss, according to the CNIB Foundation. However, as the Lancet study points out, blindness and vision loss are issues that disproportionately affects people in developing areas of the world including sub-Saharan Africa and south, east, and southeast Asia.

“The results of this study have important implications for policy and practice. Worldwide, more than 80 per cent of people with vision impairment and blindness live in LMIC’s (low-income and middle-income countries), and 55 per cent are women and girls,” the researchers wrote.

While much of the data that suggests an increased prevalence of vision loss across the world has much to do with an aging population, it remains an issue that can not be ignored. Especially in Canada, where the proportion of seniors has steadily risen since 1960. Eight per cent of the population were seniors in that year, rising to 14 per cent in 2009. StatCan suggests that by 2036, around 23 to 25 per cent of the population will be seniors. By 2061, that number could be as high as 28 per cent.

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