There’s just not enough good data to say whether or not seniors should be routinely screened for vision trouble by their primary care physicians, an influential panel of U.S. experts reports.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) believes current data isn’t adequate to assess the potential benefits and harms of such screening in people 65 or older.
The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of experts that reviews the scientific evidence and makes recommendations on preventive health services.
“We need more evidence on accurate ways to screen for eye conditions in older adults in a primary care setting,” task force chair Dr. Al Siu said in a USPSTF news release. Siu is Mount Sinai Health System chair, and a professor in the department of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.
However, task force member Dr. Michael Pignone said that “older adults who are having vision problems should talk to their primary care doctor or eye specialist.”
Pignone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, said that “in the absence of clear evidence, primary care doctors should use their clinical judgment when deciding whether to screen for vision problems in patients without vision symptoms.”
Vision problems are a major impediment to seniors’ independence and quality of life. Common types of eye problems in older people include: refractive errors (the main reason people wear glasses or contacts); cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens); and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects vision in the center of the eye.
Primary care doctors typically check vision with an eye chart test. While this test can detect refractive errors, it does not identify early stage AMD or cataracts in people who do not report vision problems, according to the panel’s statement issued March 1.
One expert stressed, however, that checking seniors’ vision should be a top priority if symptoms arise.
“It remains clear that the elderly population is at risk for a number of sight-threatening diseases that can be treated, leading to better visual outcomes,” said Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about seniors and vision problems.