Objective: To determine the prevalence and causes of low vision in a large sample of nursing home residents. Methods: Twenty-eight nursing homes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware were enrolled in a clinical trial to assess the impact of vision restoration/rehabilitation on nursing home residents. Visual acuity was measured using both recognition charts and preferential looking techniques. An ophthalmologist examined all residents with visual acuity worse than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye and determined the primary cause for decreased vision. Results are reported for the better-seeing eye. Results: Of 2544 eligible residents, 1591 (63%) participated, but 286 residents were unable to respond to visual acuity testing. Of the remaining 1307 residents, 496 (37%) had best-corrected visual acuity worse than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye. Causes were ascribed for 412 subjects. Rates of low vision were similar between African American subjects and white subjects (39% and 38%, respectively; age-adjusted P=.18). Cataract was the leading cause of low vision, responsible for 37% of low vision among white subjects and 54% of low vision among African American subjects. Macular degeneration was responsible for 29% of low vision among white subjects but only 7% among African American subjects. Glaucoma caused low vision in 4% of white subjects and 10% of African American subjects. Refractive error was not a frequent cause of low vision in nursing home residents. Conclusions: Low vision is highly prevalent among nursing home residents, with 37% having visual acuity worse than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye. Differences in causes of low vision between African American subjects and white subjects were noted, with African American subjects more likely to have vision loss on the basis of cataract, a readily treated condition. Appropriate interventions for nursing home residents, who face significant obstacles in accessing eye care services, have the potential to improve the quality of life of this at-risk older population.
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