NRCI awarded funding to study ocular conditions in Irish nursing home residents

An older woman is reading a sheet of paper through a magnifying glass

Researchers will also explore nutrition, particularly carotenoid levels, as determinants for diseases such as Age-related macular degeneration

Monday, 30th May 2022 – Scientists from Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI), School of Health Science, at South East Technological University (SETU) Waterford have been awarded funding to investigate the prevalence of ocular pathologies and visual impairment in elderly residents of nursing homes in Ireland.

According to the World Health Organisation, cataract and refractive errors are the prevailing causes of avoidable blindness, with the vast majority of individuals over fifty years of age. Technological advancements and improved living standards have yielded longer life expectancy, particularly in developed countries, like the Republic of Ireland. Nursing homes in Ireland play a crucial role in providing care to this ageing population. However, reports suggest residents in nursing homes experience difficulties accessing specific medical services, in particular eyecare.

The NRCI has been awarded funding under the SETU Industry Co-fund PhD scholarship, in collaboration with enterprise partner, NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland), to study such ocular conditions among elderly residents in Irish Nursing Homes with a view to developing preventative and management strategies to improve quality of care and quality of life.

In addition, this research aims to study the relationship with other aspects of human health in this vulnerable population that could help define preventative measures and interventions to support visual function in the future. As already demonstrated by Prof Nolan and his research team, targeted nutrition  for the eye is one important factor related to visual performance and cognitive function. As part of this study researchers will employ state-of-the-art assessments to measure carotenoid concentrations in the skin, which correlates directly with lifestyle, health  and diet.

Speaking about this new project, Prof John Nolan, Founder and Director of the NRCI and Principal Investigator of the project said, “Firstly, we are delighted to partner with the NCBI via this new collaboration, which represents a unique and timely research project. We have known for a long time the impact of nutrition, age, lifestyle and environmental factors on vision, and vision-related quality of life for patients. I believe that there are many vision enhancing interventions available that will support our ageing population. This research will allow us to identify how we can best implement such changes and I truly believe that this work will result in major societal benefits for this vulnerable population.”

The NCBI is a national organisation that supports people who are blind or vision  impaired to live independently and confidently. They offer practical and emotional support, technology training advice and a range of  innovative programmes to sustain those with a vision impairment in education, in the workplace, and in wider society. Through their involvement in this programme, they will support the PhD candidate to conduct this research and to expand their skillset from dissemination, such as informal and educational talks, to collaboration with international organisations, encompassing both, research and clinical practice, impacting in public policy and society.

June Tinsley, NCBI Head of Advocacy and Communications said, “NCBI is thrilled to partner with NRCI on this project because through our work we know the vision of residents in nursing homes is deteriorating but we don’t know the full scale of it. Factors including lack of community eyecare services, prioritising their other medical needs or insufficient staff training on eye health all play a role but it can result in treatments being delayed and vision deteriorating irreversibly. Gathering this evidence will help inform public policy in this area and lead to better outcomes for these residents.”