New Report Shines Light on the State of Vision Loss Among Older Adults in Wisconsin

The cover of the report Wisconsin’s Older Population and Vision Loss

The Council has known for some time that vision loss in Wisconsin is more prevalent than most people think. We’ve also long believed that vision services in the Badger State are not meeting the level of need. Now comes a report prepared by The Ohio State University for VisionServe Alliance that confirms these realities. The report is available online at

The aim of “Wisconsin’s Older Population and Vision Loss: A Briefing” is to help policy makers and other interested people better understand the circumstances of Wisconsinites with vision loss and the need for more resources to support them. The Council urges anybody who cares about the state of vision services in Wisconsin to read the report and put the information to use when advocating with public officials and other stakeholders.

“Data is key for effective systems advocacy,” says Council Executive Director Denise Jess. Denise explains that an advocate in possession of facts as well as a personal story can be extremely persuasive when testifying in a public hearing or meeting with a local official or state legislator.

“Personal stories give policymakers concrete examples of our concerns, while data gives them the big picture,” says Denise. “Analytics like the number of people impacted, which groups are disproportionately affected, how the group is doing compared to their peers, and what the costs to society are when issues are not addressed are powerful points of advocacy.” These data tools are particularly useful as Wisconsin residents prepare to be heard during the coming state budget negotiations.

The report starts with some baseline facts:

  • An estimated 4.2% of older people in Wisconsin report severe vision impairment or blindness.
  • Women, who comprise 59% of the older population, are more likely than men to experience vision impairment.
  • African Americans report much higher prevalence of vision impairment than their White peers.
  • Vision impairment among people 65 and older varies widely across Wisconsin counties, from 3% to 13%.

The report goes on to focus on the impact of these facts, both on individuals and the public at large:

  • Older people with vision impairment have lower levels of education and are poorer than older people without vision loss. Forty percent of older people with vision impairment have not graduated from high school, and 30% have annual incomes below $20,000.
  • Older people with vision impairment report higher prevalence of chronic conditions, particularly stroke, arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease and depression. Not surprisingly, 55% of older people with vision impairment in Wisconsin report fair or poor health, compared to 20% of older people without vision impairment.
  • 37% of older people with vision impairment report 14 or more days of poor physical health in the past 30 days compared to 13% of those without vision impairment.
  • 13% of people with vision impairment report 14 or more days of poor mental health in the past 30 days compared to 6% of those without vision loss.

These statistics point to a need for, among other things, greater access to vision services, transportation options, and affordable health care.

Economic well-being is a key social determinant of health. Here are some of the social and public impact findings in the report:

  • 10% of older people with vision impairment report annual incomes between $10,000 and less than $15,000, compared to 4% of people without vision impairment.
  • 17% of older people with vision impairment, report an annual income of $15,000 to less than $20,000, compared to 6% of people without vision impairment.
  • Lower socio-economic status has also been shown to represent a substantial barrier to access to care for those with vision loss.

The report notes that only about 3% of older people with vision impairment nationally receive vision rehabilitation services. Since the prevalence of vision loss among older Wisconsinites is clearly greater than has previously been acknowledged, this data provides powerful evidence of the need to invest significantly more resources in vision services in the state.

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