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Researchers: Older people may have glaucoma without realizing it


According researchers at the University of Gothenburg, for patients who recently received a diagnosis, discovery of glaucoma could mean they start treatment with daily eye drops that lower the pressure in the eye and slow down the damage to the optic nerve.

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Rido)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Rido)

For many patients, it can prove to be difficult to determine if they may have glaucoma, and a study conducted at the University of Gothenburg found that about 5% of 70-year-olds were found to have glaucoma, and half of those diagnosed were unaware that they had the disease.

The research was carried out by Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. The study shows that 4.8% of the 560 study participants examined by eye specialists had glaucoma.1,2

“Of those who were diagnosed with glaucoma via the study, 15 people – or 2.7% of all participants – were unaware that they had the disease before being examined,” Johansson said in a University of Gothenburg news release. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”

According to the news release, for patients who recently received a diagnosis, discovery of the disease could mean they start treatment with daily eye drops that lower the pressure in the eye and reduce possible damage to the optic nerve.

Reduced vision affects daily life

Compared to individuals without the disease, patients who have been diagnosed with glaucoma had similar levels of physical activity and did not smoke more, or drink more alcohol. They rated their overall quality of life as being just as good as others, they were not more tired or more depressed.1

“This was a positive surprise, and was a finding that I hope can bring comfort to many people who have been diagnosed with glaucoma,” Johansson said in the news release. “It’s hard to live with a disease that gradually impairs vision, but life can still be good in many ways.”

By contrast, people diagnosed with glaucoma had reported that their vision-related quality of life was below par. Johansson pointed out in the release it can be more difficult to climb stairs, see sidewalk curbs in the evening, and notice things in the peripheral vision.

“This means that people with glaucoma may avoid visiting others, or going to restaurants or parties, and instead stay at home,” she said in the news release. “They lose their independence, and may feel frustrated about it.”

Around 1000 70-year-olds

According to the news release, researchers conducted the investigation as part of the H70 study, examining the health of older people, which has been conducted at the University of Gothenburg for 50 years. The H70 study has an open invitation to all 70-year-olds born in a certain year in Gothenburg to attend several comprehensive physical and cognitive examinations. The 1203 70-year-olds included in the glaucoma study were born in 1944. For these studies, almost everyone (1182 people) answered written questions about their eye health and the presence of glaucoma in their family. Eye specialists at Sahlgrenska University Hospital also examined 560 of the participants.1,2

The research confirms that there are hereditary factors behind the disease, as those diagnosed with glaucoma were more likely to have a close relative with the same diagnosis. The results also confirm that glaucoma involves higher eye pressure, although they also show that the majority of those who were newly diagnosed (67%) still had normal eye pressure.

During the early stages of the disease, the healthy eye can compensate for the loss of vision, meaning that many people believe their vision is as good as before. These studies confirm that glaucoma often does not initially involve a loss of visual acuity, which may make it harder to detect the disease.1,2

  1. Lena Havstam Johansson, Lada Kalaboukhova, Hanna Falk Erhag, et.al. The prevalence of glaucoma in a 70-year-old Swedish population in the city area of Gothenburg. Acta Ophthalmologica. Published July 17, 2023. DOI: 10.1111/aos.15734.
  2. Lena Havstam Johansson, Lada Kalaboukhova, Hanna Falk Erhag, et.al. Vision-related quality of life among 70-year-olds diagnosed with glaucoma. Acta Ophthalmologica. Published August 2023. DOI: 10.1111/aos.15737.
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