June 30, 2023 – Older Americans living in warmer places tend to have more vision problems than older Americans living in cooler places, a new study says.
People 65 and over living in counties with temperatures above 60 F had a 44% higher chance of severe vision impairment than people in that age group living in counties with average temperatures below 50, said the study published in Ophthalmic Epidemiology.
People in counties with an average temperature above 55 degrees had a 24% higher risk, and people in counties with an average temperature above 50 had a 14% higher risk, the study said.
The link between higher local temperatures and vision problems was highest for people ages 65 to 79, compared to people 80 and over, males compared to females, and White Americans compared to Black Americans.
University of Toronto researchers examined American Community Survey findings from 2012 to 2017 in which 1.7 million older adults were asked many questions, including, “Is this person blind or does he/she have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?” Average temperature data was obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“This link between vision impairment and average county temperature is very worrying if future research determines that the association is causal,” lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute of Life Course and Aging and a professor in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said in a news release. “With climate change, we are expecting a rise in global temperatures. It will be important to monitor if the prevalence of vision impairment among older adults increases in the future.”
The study didn’t conclude what caused the connection, and researchers called for more study. But some of the possibilities include increased exposure to ultraviolet light, air pollution, infections, and the degradation of folic acid with rising temperatures.