Optometric practice in the nursing home setting is not always very glamorous; however, there are many reasons optometrists might want to consider adding this specialty to their practice arsenal due to tremendous need.
The elderly population is growing at an astounding rate compared to 50 and 100 years ago. The first baby boomers hit age 65 in 2011, and according to U.S. News and World Report, there are 75 million boomers. For the next 20 years, 10,000 people each day will turn 65.1
In 2030, 20 percent of the entire U.S. population will be age 65, up from 13 percent today. In the same time frame, those aged 85 and older will double, and those aged 100 and over will nearly triple.2
With the increase in population there is a significant need for more nursing homes to take care of this segment of the U.S. population.
Growing need for care
Recent census data show that there are nearly 1.5 million nursing home beds in the U.S., and most facilities are at maximum capacity.3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) aging trends study found that at current usage rates, approximately three million residents will be in nursing homes by 2030—nearly double the current amount of residents.3
Not only will the number of residents increase, but with increasing age the incidence of eye disease increases.3 A 1997 study showed that 30 percent of all nursing home residents had difficulty seeing even with their current glasses, and slightly less than 10 percent had severely limited vision or blindness. 3 Studies also show a higher incidence—up to 15 times higher—of visual impairment in nursing home residents compared to their age-matched counterparts not in nursing homes.3-7
The three leading causes of visual impairment in the U.S. in the adult and aging adult population are diabetes, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.3
Figures 1-4 show that with age comes the likelihood of a disease causing visual impairment. By the year 2050 the population of the U.S. will be living longer, and the prevalence of ocular disease is going to triple over this time frame (Figures 2 and 4). Many of these citizens may require a nursing home at some point in their lifetimes, so the need for optometric services will be significant.3
Treating uncorrected refractive error and management of undiagnosed eye disease can reduce symptoms of depression and delay onset of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-like diseases.1 The facility can use the OD’s presence as a marketing advantage to potential residents showing eye care is provided in house, giving them a competitive advantage from other facilities.