Onset and recovery from visual impairment

Analysis of causes and consequences using the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust, this project examined the deterioration in vision associated with ageing. The most rapid changes in vision occur in later life; as age increases, deterioration in vision is exponential.  With an ageing UK population, the rate of sight loss is expected to rise dramatically over the next 25 years. Visual impairment in later life can have profound consequences for the physical functioning, psychological well-being and quality of life, and health service needs of older adults; therefore, the effects of undetected, yet correctable, reduced vision are significant.  Despite the immediate policy relevance of sight loss, there is limited understanding of population factors related to the incidence and consequences of visual impairment.

Research aims

Using longitudinal data this project aimed to explore the dynamics of visual impairment of a representative sample of the population, identifying factors associated with deterioration and improvements in vision, and the impact of vision loss on respondents' lives (independence, social engagement, economic position, and wellbeing).

Key researchers

James Nazroo (Principal Investigator), Jennifer Whillans.


The research was carried out over an 18 month period.  The project was divided into the analysis of trajectories of vision change using optimal matching (4 months), of the onset of visual impairment using survival techniques (4 months), of the uptake of cataract treatment using survival techniques (2 months), of the relationship between self-report and objective measures of vision (2 months), and an analysis of the consequences of visual impairment for independence, social engagement, economic position and wellbeing (6 months).  Literature searches, analysis, and writing up were iterative processes across the project.


  • Whillans, J. and Nazroo, J. (forthcoming) Trajectories of Eyesight in Older People: The role of age and social position. The Gerontologist.

Further reading

  • Sussman-Skalka C., Stuen C., and Cimarolli V. Vision loss is not a normal part of aging - Open your eyes to the facts. New York: Center for Education, Lighthouse International, 2003.
  • Haegerstrom-Portnoy G., Schneck M., and Brabyn J. Seeing into old age: vision function beyond acuity. Optometry and Vision Science 1999;76:141-58 doi: 10.1097/00006324-199903000-00014[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
  • Mojon-Azzi S., Sousa-Poza A., and Mojon D. Impact of low vision on well-being in 10 European countries. Ophthalmologica 2008;222(3):205-12 doi: 10.1159/000316688[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
  • Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Key Information and Statistics Secondary Key Information and Statistics 2012.
  • Horowitz A. The Prevalence and Consequences of Vision Impairment in Later Life. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 2004;20(3):185-95

For further information email: james.nazroo@manchester.ac.uk or jennifer.whillans@manchester.ac.uk