Intended for healthcare professionals


Prevalence of serious eye disease and visual impairment in a north London population: population based, cross sectional study

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 30 May 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1643
  1. A Reidy, senior clinical scientista,
  2. D C Minassian, reader in ophthalmic epidemiologyb,
  3. G Vafidis, consultant ophthalmologistc,
  4. J Joseph, consultant ophthalmologistc,
  5. S Farrow, professor of public healthd,
  6. J Wu, ophthalmology research fellowe,
  7. P Desai, senior lecturer in ophthalmic epidemiologye,
  8. A Connolly, research nursec
  1. a Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD
  2. b Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, London EC1V 9EJ
  3. c Central Middlesex Hospital, London NW10 7NS
  4. d Middlesex University, Enfield N11 2NQ
  5. e Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton SO9 5NH
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Minassian
  • Accepted 4 February 1998


Objective: To estimate the magnitude of serious eye disorders and of visual impairment in a defined elderly population of a typical metropolitan area in England, and to assess the frequency they were in touch with, or known to, the eye care services.

Design: Cross sectional survey using two stage cluster random sampling.

Setting: General practices in north London.

Subjects: Random sample of people aged 65 and older, drawn from a defined population of elderly people registered with 17 general practice groups.

Main outcome measures: Proportions and population prevalence estimates were determined for visual acuity, assessed with the person's own spectacles (if any), classified into four categories: prevalence of cataract, age related macular degeneration, and refractive error causing visual impairment and of definite primary open angle glaucoma; and status of contact with eye services.

Results: 1547 of 1840 (84%) eligible people were examined. The population prevalence of bilateral visual impairment (visual acuity <6/12) was 30%, of which 72% was potentially remediable. 92 of these 448 cases (21%) had visual acuity <6/60 (“blindness”) in one or both eyes. Prevalence of cataract causing visual impairment was 30%; 88% of these people were not in touch with the eye services. The prevalence of vision impairing, age related macular degeneration was 8% and of glaucoma (definite cases) was 3%. Three quarters of the people with definite glaucoma were not known to the eye services.

Conclusions: Untreated visual impairment and eye disorders affect a substantial proportion of people aged 65 years and older. These findings should contribute to the setting up of future strategies for preservation of sight and eye health services in general.

Key messages

  • Data have not been adequate to reliably estimate the extent of visual impairment and serious eye disease in metropolitan areas in Britain

  • Data from north London shows that 30% of a sample of the population aged 65 or older are visually impaired in both eyes

  • More than 72% of the bilateral visual impairment was potentially remediable by surgery or glasses, nearly one in three people had visually impairing cataract, and 88% of these people were not in touch with eye services

  • Eye problems were more prevalent in people living in relatively underprivileged areas


    • Accepted 4 February 1998
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