Vision care in older adults

Problems with vision become more common as people age.  For older adults, good vision is linked with quality of life and ability to enjoy social activities with friends and family.   Older adults with vision problems are also twice as likely to suffer falls that can lead to serious injury, such as broken hips, and even death. For individuals living in long-term care homes, visual problems have also been linked to decreases in cognitive function.

To better understand the size of the vision care problem, the Bruyère Research Institute analyzed vision information that was collected by the Canadian Council of the Blind and the Lions Club 4A through a mobile eye clinic that visited 27 Ottawa based retirement and long-term care homes from 2013 to 2015. The average age of people who were examined was 78.2 years.

A total of 602 people were examined and 53.5 per cent of them had at least one vision problem. Cataracts were the most frequent vision abnormality (33.1% of all examined), followed by age-related macular degeneration (9.1%) and glaucoma (5.1%).  The research showed that over 2/3 (67.3%) of residents would have experienced important improvements in vision with eyeglasses (some of these also required surgery).  Similar results have been observed in older adults living in nursing homes and assistive housing in the US.

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care covers vision assessments every year once individuals turn 65 and covers surgery (cataract extractions) and medical treatment for macular degeneration.  However, they do not support the cost of eyeglasses.  Although vision care is so important and is funded, only 40 per cent of seniors have annual eye examinations (2011). For many older adults who live in retirement or long-term care homes, accessing vision care services at an optometrist’s office is very challenging.  Challenges include organizing transportation and finding someone to accompany them.  In addition, this type of travel can be very disruptive for people with complex medical problems, such as dementia.

Tips for seniors

  • Make sure to get your eyes examined annually by your optometrist.
  • For information about mobile clinics and other services, please contact the Canadian Council of the Blind (, 1-877-304-0968).

This article courtesy of Bruyère Continuing Care. For more information visit: