March 17 (UPI) -- About 20% fewer adults age 65 and older in the United States have serious vision impairment compared to the prior decade, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal Ophthalmic Epidemiology.
In 2017, the most recent year for which data available, just under 7% of seniors nationally said they had significant vision loss, down from nearly 8.5% in 2008, the data showed.
That translates to almost 850,000 fewer adults older than 65 with serious vision problems nationally, the researchers said.
"Vision problems are a major cause of age-related disability, and serious vision impairment can increase the risk of falls and fractures and undermine quality of life," study co-author ZhiDi Deng said in a press release.
"We need to determine how to maintain this positive trajectory into the next decade and beyond," said Deng, a pharmacy student at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Roughly 12 million people age 40 and older in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
The risk for vision impairment increases with age, according to the agency, which is why Deng and her colleagues focused on older adults in their research, which derived its estimates from data on 500,000 senior respondents to the American Community Survey.
Overseen by the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey documents population trends across the country.
The declines in vision problems noted in the study were propelled by a 26% decrease in the prevalence of vision impairment among those age 85 and older and a 16% decline among those age 75 to 84.
Among those age 65 to 74, the prevalence of severe vision impairment dropped by just under 3% between 2008 and 2017.
Cases of serious vision impairment among Black and Hispanic people age 65 and older declined by 27% and 24%, respectively, compared to 13% for White people in that age group.
Similarly, cases of serious vision impairment among women, who account for two-thirds of global blindness, declined by 21% between 2008 and 2017, compared to 9% for men.
Although the reasons for these declines are unclear, they may be linked with advances in medical interventions for vision problems and better management of diabetes, a leading cause of vision loss, the researchers said.
"The narrowing of racial [and] ethnic disparities in vision related problems during this period may be attributable, in part, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which led to a large increase in the percentage of insured Hispanics and Black Americans," Deng said.
"While it is heartening to see the racial disparities improving over the decade, targeted outreach and improved access to affordable vision care for racialized groups is still urgently needed to effectively eliminate the gap," she said.