WASHINGTON – More Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from age-related eye disease, according to a new report.
Blind Americans. Over 1 million Americans 40 and over are currently blind and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
The “Vision Problems in the U.S.” report on the prevalence of sight-threatening eye disease in Americans was released by the National Eye Institute, in partnership with Prevent Blindness America.
“Blindness and visual impairment from most eye diseases and disorders can be reduced with early detection and treatment,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson.
“That’s why eye health education programs that encourage those at high risk for eye disease to have regular dilated eye exams are essential in preventing vision loss.”
Public awareness. The director of the National Eye Institute, Dr. Paul A. Sieving, called for an increase in public attention to eye disease.
“About one in eight Americans is 65 or older,” Sieving said. “When you add declining mortality rates and population shifts, such as the ‘baby boomers,’ the number of older people will grow dramatically in the years ahead.
“Blindness and vision impairment represent not only a significant burden to those affected by sight loss, but also to the national economy as well.”
Causes. The new report addresses the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness in the U.S., including:
* Diabetic retinopathy, believed to be a leading cause of blindness in the industrialized world in people between 25 and 74. Diabetic retinopathy affects more than 5.3 million Americans 18 and older.
* Age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness and vision impairment in Americans 60 and older. More than 1.6 million Americans over 60 have advanced AMD.
* Cataract, the leading cause of blindness in the world. Cataract affects nearly 20.5 million Americans 65 and older.
* Glaucoma, a chronic disease that often requires life-long treatment to control. About 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another 2 million do not know they have it.
“These are the most comprehensive data available on the prevalence of eye disease in America,” said Dr. David S. Friedman, principal investigator of the study.
“We hope this information will serve as a guide to our communities and our nation’s leaders. We must comprehend the scope of eye problems in our country so that adequate resources can be devoted to research, treatment, and prevention.”
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