A study published by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Roski Eye Institute in JAMA Ophthalmology found that the U.S. prevalence in visual impairment (VI) and blindness is expected to double over the next 35 years. By 2050, the number of Americans with a variety of eye disease and impairment issues, including eye diseases common after age 50 – age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (DR) and cataracts – will dramatically increase impacting both individuals and society.
Boomers Most At Risk
The study reported by 2050, 16.4 million Americans over age 40 will have VI due to uncorrected refractive error compared to 8.2 million in 2015. In addition, more than 2 million age 40+ will be blind and 6.95 million will have VI by 2050 compared to 1.02 million and 3.22 million respectively from 2015.
Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, Millennials (born 1982 – 2004) have recently surpassed the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964) as the largest age cohort in the U.S., but it is the aging boomers who are driving the increase in vision impairment and blindness over the next 35 years. By 2050, 86.7 million boomers will be over the age of 65 – almost 1 in 5 Americans – when many debilitating eye diseases and vision loss can occur.
According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those are diagnosed. Glaucoma can cause blindness when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye putting pressure on the optic nerve. Without releasing that pressure, damage to the optic nerve and potential blindness can occur.
The Solution: An Annual Eye Exam
Dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Roski Eye Institute, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, is one of the world’s leading ophthalmic researchers and epidemiologists. He says,
“Glaucoma does not have to lead to blindness. Because there may be no symptoms and the disease progresses slowly, an annual eye exam, especially after the age of 50 that includes a dilated eye exam, will help prevent blindness with early detection and treatment.”
Read Sherri’s interview for PBS Next Avenue with a caregiver of a man who was blind but whose sight has been partially restored by the experts at USC Roski Eye Institute:
Also, check out the free VisionSim app from the Braille Institute – it is an “eye-opening” app for caregivers of those with eye diseases that lets loved one understand what the disease means to visual health.