The Relationship of Self-Rated Vision and Hearing to Functional Status and Well-Being Among Seniors 70 Years and Older

Published in: American Journal of Ophthalmology, v. 127, no. 4, Apr. 1999, p. 447-452

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1999

by Paul Lee, James P. Smith, Raynard Kington

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PURPOSE: To describe the relationship between self-reported visual and hearing impairment and an index of global functional status among seniors age 70 years or older. METHODS: A total of 7,320 United States community-dwelling persons aged 70 years or older participating in the 1993 Assets and Health Dynamics of the Oldest Old Survey (AHEAD) completed detailed questionnaires about their demographic, socioeconomic, and health status. Multivariate analyses of functional status (using a global index of functional status based on self-reported limitations in 11 activities) were conducted, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic status and common medical conditions, as well as independently for hearing and vision. RESULTS: Of the respondents, 27% rated their vision as fair or poor, whereas 25% rated their hearing as fair or poor. Controlling for demographic factors, socioeconomic status, medical conditions, and general health status, limitations in both vision and hearing correlated independently with worsened functional status. Controlling for income, wealth, and education did not greatly reduce the strength of the association between visual and hearing impairment and function. CONCLUSIONS: Visual and hearing impairment appear to have a significant relationship to overall functioning in the oldest old, regardless of income or wealth. By confirming these findings across income and household wealth groups, adjusted for medical conditions and general health status, in a nationally representative population of Americans age 70 years or older, this study provides a powerful added impetus to efforts for improving vision and hearing for all other Americans, including the oldest old.

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