The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study showed that significant improvements in the treatment of major eye diseases helped reduce the numbers of people whose vision was impaired by diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Frequency of visual impairment was lower for every age group compared with people the same age studied in pre-1991 national studies.
- Prevalence of visual impairment of people ages 85 and older remained high, at about 15 percent, with AMD as the leading cause of severe vision loss.
- Prevalence of diabetic retinopathy DID NOT increase, despite a growing population of people with type two diabetes; this is likely due to better glucose control.
“These results have important public health care implications in estimating the projected burden of the number of those in the United States population expected to become visually impaired,’’ says Klein, noting that the elderly population in the United States is expected to triple.
“More people than ever will live into their seventh, eighth or ninth decades, the very years when they will be most vulnerable to age-related eye diseases.”
Ronald Klein says the findings make clear which age-related eye diseases are already well managed, in terms of prevention, detection and treatment, and where efforts need to be intensified to minimize vision loss and protect quality of life for older Americans.
This BDES cohort included 4,926 participants between the ages of 43 and 86 at the study’s outset. The 20-year cumulative incidence of any visual impairment or those ages 60 or older who had no previous vision loss was 3 percent. About 0.3 percent developed a severe impairment.
The study also found that, over the 20-year study period, 38 percent of visual impairment was correctable through new eyeglasses or contact lenses. Correction is important for older people because it leads to a better quality of life and reduces the risk of accidents.
Although the Beaver Dam study subjects represented a spectrum of income levels, home and work environments, and access to eye health care, 99 percent of them were Caucasian. Ethnicity, environment and access to eye health care can affect the risk for age-related eye diseases, the researchers note.
The study was supported by the National Eye Institute and published online in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health