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Nursing Home Neglect of Eye Care Erodes Quality of Life, Leave Residents at Risk of Depression

Nov 13, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Nursing home neglect often includes a lack of vision care for nursing home residents, a recent study has found.  Unfortunately, this problem can have serious implications, as the same study has also discovered that nursing home patients who lack basic  eye care have a lower quality of life and are at a higher risk for depression.

Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham have been looking at the lack of eye care services for nursing home patients for some time.   Earlier this summer, they published the first phase of their nursing home vision care survey.  The investigation covered a total of 380 patients age 55 and older. In addition to examining medical records, each nursing home patient was interviewed about their use of eyeglasses and vision care. What the study found was startling. Even though 90 percent of the nursing home residents had health insurance, two thirds had no reference to an eye exam in their medical chart. When interviewed, 28 percent of residents said that their last exam occurred the previous year, while 20 percent said that it had been more than two years since their last exam. A third of patients couldn’t recall the last time they had an eye examination.

While the lack of vision care services is considered a form of nursing home neglect, the Alabama study found that often such care is withheld out of ignorance rather than malevolence.   Many nursing home staff – and even the residents’ own families – do not believe that providing eyeglasses to nursing home residents with physical or mental disabilities will offer them any benefits.  But the second phase of the University of Alabama study suggests that such assumptions are off the mark.

For this portion of their research, the study authors followed two groups of nursing home patients to see if access to eyeglasses improved quality of life.  According to an article published in the "Archive of Ophthalmology", the first group of 78 nursing home residents were given eyeglasses just a week after having received an eye exam.   The second group of 64 people received their glasses two months after the eye exam.   Of the two groups, those who received eyeglasses soonest had higher scores for vision, reading, activity and hobby participation, and social interaction compared with the second group.  The first group of nursing home residents also exhibited fewer depressive  symptoms than those who had to wait for eyeglasses.

While nursing home residents are 15 times more likely to have vision problems than people with other living arrangements, only 12 percent of US nursing homes have eye doctors on staff.   The authors of the nursing home eye care study wrote in the “Archives of Ophthalmology” that their findings illustrate a need for an examination into the factors that contribute to a lack of eye care availability for nursing home residents.   

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