Family members of older adults with vision impairment (VI) spend significantly more time providing care to them, and as a result their own “valued activities” and emotional well-being are more acutely impacted, compared with those whose elderly relatives don’t experience visual deficits, a recent United States study reports. 

The investigation, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, specifically found caregivers of older adults with VI spent 36% more hours providing care, and also had 61% more of their valued activities affected per month. Additionally, this group showed a 46% greater risk of experiencing substantial emotional difficulty per month than caregivers of adults without VI. Still, the authors found no differences between the groups in terms of experiencing substantial physical or financial difficulty in their caregiving roles.

The study was a cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS—a representative survey of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older. Researchers linked this data to the National Study of Caregiving I, which includes family and other unpaid caregivers of NHATS participants. The linked surveys provided care recipient and caregiver perspectives on late-life care on a national level.

The current study included 1,776 family/unpaid caregivers who assisted older adults with activities relating to mobility, self-care, household, transportation, and medical care.

Out of the total number of caregivers, 428 spent an average of 111 hours per month assisting older adults with VI, while 1,348 spent an average of 72 hours assisting elderly individuals without VI.

This latest research adds to a growing body of literature addressing the complexities of caring for older adults with age-related conditions. Much like VI, other conditions like dementia and stroke can increase the caregiving demands on family and relatives, the authors explained.

“As the US population ages and the number of older adults with VI rises, the number of family and unpaid caregivers will likely increase in parallel. Therefore, there is a need to better engage and support caregivers in order to maximize these relationships and optimize outcomes for both the person with VI and the caregiver,” researchers wrote in their paper.

For example, greater government support in the provision of home and personal care services for older adults with VI may help these unpaid family members, and in turn, supplement and enrich existing caregiving relationships, they added.

Varadaraj V, Swiatek KS, Chung SE, et al. Caring for older adults with self-reported vision impairment: findings from the national study of caregiving. Am J Ophthalmol. April 5, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].