Blindness, Low Vision to Double in U.S. by 2050

Blind man walks down streetAmerica’s vision is looking dim. According to a Johns Hopkins University study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, the annual incidence and prevalence of new low vision and blindness cases among Americans 45 years of age or older will double between 2017 and 2050.

The study reviewed data from the 2007-08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 6,016 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 45, to estimate prevalence rates among age groups.

Low vision is defined as visual impairment not correctable with standard refraction, and the National Eye Institute estimates more than 135 million people worldwide suffer from this condition. Low vision is caused by common aging concerns, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy and impacts the ability to perform everyday activities.

Low vision can be managed with treatment and rehabilitation, but much of the vision loss from glaucoma, AMD and diabetic retinopathy is irreversible. Only vision loss from cataracts is completely reversible.

The study’s projection on blindness is especially sobering. Blindness is expected to increase from 1 million Americans in 2017 to 2.1 million in 2050. Bhavani Iyer, O.D., AOA Vision Rehabilitation Committee Chair, says this study emphasizes the urgency for increased rehabilitation services in the near future. This means we will need more doctors who are equipped to treat low-vision patients.

On the bright side, a different study in the same edition of JAMA Ophthalmology claims that age-related macular degeneration could be on the decline. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the AMD risk for each successive generation of Americans has decreased by about 60 percent. Although AMD is still prevalent today, the incidence is potentially waning. The study authors concluded that future researchers may discover “opportunities for primary prevention of this vision-threatening disorder.”

You can significantly lower your risk for low vision or vision loss through yearly comprehensive eye exams. A comprehensive eye exam offers prevention and early detection of eye diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Many eye diseases have no symptoms or pain in the early stages, and the only way to avoid vision loss is through early intervention. You do not have to be a statistic. One of our board-certified ophthalmologists is available to meet your eye care needs, so make an appointment today.

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