For older people with impaired eyesight, certain health problems may lead to a speedier decline in quality of life, Dutch researchers report.

The findings suggest that by referring their patients who have these health problems for specialty care, ophthalmologists may help to improve or preserve their quality of life, the researchers say.

Vision problems, largely due to cataract or age-related macular degeneration, become much more common in people after age 70, Dr. Ruth M. A. van Nispen of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam and her colleagues note.

Furthermore, up to 78 percent of older people with impaired vision may have at least one chronic health problem, they add in their report in the online journal Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.

To investigate whether such health problems might worsen health-related quality of life for visually impaired people, van Nispen and her team followed 246 people with vision problems for five months, comparing them to a group of younger visually impaired adults and a group of people in their 70s with no visual impairment.

Quality of life at the study's outset was worse for the older visually impaired people if they had either diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, consequences of a previous stroke, musculoskeletal problems, cancer, gastrointestinal problems or more vision loss compared to those who didn't have these health problems or who had less vision loss, the researchers found.

After five months, the patients with worse vision, musculoskeletal problems, lung disease or stroke were more likely to have had a decline in their quality of life.

Based on the findings, van Nispen and her team say, ophthalmologists caring for older, visually impaired patients should ask them about other health problems, and refer them to rehabilitation services and specialty care if needed.