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To evaluate the presence and severity of diabetic retinopathy and the value of retinopathy screening in people aged 70 years or older.In a population based study on 500 of 560 eligible (89%) people aged 70 years or older, signs of diabetic retinopathy were evaluated through dilated pupils by an ophthalmologist using photographic and/or ophthalmoscopic methods.23% of the study population (113/500) had diabetes mellitus. Signs of diabetic retinopathy were found in 24 people (21% of the diabetic population). Retinopathy changes were graded as mild to moderate non-proliferative retinopathy (NPDR) in 40 eyes (18 people), severe NPDR (preproliferative) in five eyes (four people), and proliferative in three eyes (two people). Preproliferative or proliferative changes were present in four people (3.5% of the diabetic population) and diabetic maculopathy was diagnosed in nine (8% of the diabetic population). Laser treatment was considered to be indicated in seven people for maculopathy, and in two for proliferative changes. In four people the visual acuity was reduced to a low vision level as a result of diabetic retinopathy.In spite of the high prevalence of diabetes mellitus in the elderly population, the prevalence of vision threatening diabetic retinopathy, particularly proliferative retinopathy, is low. Ophthalmoscopically, reliable information on fundus changes could be obtained in 94%, but photographs were gradable in only 76% of the diabetic population. Therefore, the value of photographic screening for diabetic retinopathy in this age group is poor in comparison with younger age groups.