Even mild visual impairment linked to poor quality of life

New UK study shows that public health initiatives need to look at the whole spectrum of visual impairment to target population inequalities

29 Jul 2016 by Olivia Wannan

People with milder cases of visual impairment still suffer significant, negative impacts on their quality of life, new research finds.

After finding some interesting trends between socioeconomic status and visual health in another study, University College London Institutes of Child Health and Ophthalmology scientists, Professor Jugnoo Rahi and Phillippa Cumberland, analysed data from the UK Biobank.

The health information from a total of 112,314 volunteers who underwent visual screening was used in the paper published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

Professor Rahi told OT that the impact that social deprivation had on general health has been well established by decades of research, so the overall relationship between visual health and poorer quality of life was not hugely surprising.

She noted that it was easy to comprehend why a person with severe visual impairment or blindness might have their employment, educational and personal relationship prospects curtailed.

However, what was of particular interest to the researchers was that people right across the visual spectrum were impacted.

Those with a visual impairment that still allowed them to drive had a 20% higher chance of having a lower status job and a 10% increased risk of having mental health problems, the research found.

Professor Rahi emphasised that: “What was surprising was the consistency of the trend … Even mildly impaired vision does have negative outcomes in terms of health and social outcomes.”

The study did look at the impact of uncorrected refractive error, but this was not a significant factor in these relationships, she noted.

Data was also not available on the cause of the volunteers’ visual impairment, so the analysis could not look deeper at the relationships found, Professor Rahi explained.

“This is telling us something about at-risk populations, and identifies people that we should be paying attention to. Vision matters, basically [especially as] you can measure vision pretty easily,” she highlighted, adding: “Though don’t forget the whole spectrum.”

Image credit: Les Black

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