Vision, Hearing Impairment Get Overdue Attention

Article excerpt

Most people do not realize that vision loss and hearing loss are among the top seven chronic health conditions that affect quality of life and medical service use among older adults in the United States. When the federal government released Healthy People 2010, it was significant that this once-a-decade set of national guidelines included a chapter on vision and hearing objectives for the first time. Among 28 focus areas in Healthy Aging 2010: Objectives for Improving Health, the "Vision and Hearing" section is intended to "improve the visual and hearing health of the nation through prevention, early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation."

As Healthy People 2010 explains, among the five senses, people depend mostly on vision and hearing to provide the primary cues for conducting the basic activities of daily living. Vision and hearing permit people to navigate and stay oriented within their environment. These senses are critical to most work and leisure activities, and allow people to interact more fully with the environment and each other. For these reasons, vision and hearing are defining elements of the quality of life.

The vision and hearing objectives of Healthy People 2010 address the leading causes of visual impairment, which are the age-related eye disorders of diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. The chapter also identifies vision impairment due to refractive errors, eye safety at work and protective-eyewear use at home as important issues. One of the most significant objectives is that of increasing vision rehabilitation services. A subobjective calls for an increase in the use of visual and adaptive devices by people with visual.

Estimates of the number of people in the United States with visual impairment vary by definition. For example, a very limited number of people are legally blind, but this artificial distinction has little value other than for determining people's eligibility for certain governmental benefits. When low vision (or partial sight) is defined more broadly as any visual problem impairing one's ability to perform daily activities, almost 14 million people are estimated to have low vision, according to Healthy People 2010. …