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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Aging and Vision Loss Fact Sheet

Today, 6.5 million Americans over age 65 have a severe visual impairment, according to the Longitudinal Prevalence of Major Eye Diseases 2003 study. Experts predict that by 2030, rates of severe vision loss will double along with the country's aging population (Prevent Blindness America's Vision Problems in the U.S., 2002).

The first wave of the 78 million baby boom generation turns 65 in 2011, jumpstarting a two-decade period of growth in America's 65 and older population (Administration on Aging). By 2030, the number of people over the age of 65 will double to 71.5 million, or 20 percent of the population.

The risk of low vision and blindness increases significantly with age, particularly in those over age 65 (2004 National Eye Institute study).

Vision loss can adversely impact the overall health and well-being of older adults in many ways:

  • Increased risk of falls and fractures, making it more likely the person will be admitted to a hospital or nursing home, become disabled or die prematurely (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, "Trends in Vision and Hearing Among Older Americans," March 2001).
  • Increased risk of depression. Among older people with vision impairment, 57.2% are at risk of mild or moderate depression compared to 43.5% of those without vision loss (Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, AFB Press 2006, Vol. 100).
  • Difficulty identifying medications, which can lead to drug-related errors that affect their health. According to a 2003 article in Business Week, medicines have become the fifth leading cause of death among seniors. Forty percent of seniors take five or more prescription drugs a week, and 12% take more than 10.
  • Difficulty bathing, dressing, and walking around the house. Approximately 1.8 million elderly in this country (not living in nursing homes) report some difficulty with the above activities in part because of a visual impairment. Fewer than 2% report using equipment such as telescopic lenses, canes, or computer equipment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, "Trends in Vision and Hearing Among Older Americans," March 2001).

Understanding Age-Related Eye Disease

According to a 2004 study by the National Eye Institute, the four most common age-related eye diseases (AREDs) are glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts.

Individuals with vision loss from AREDs usually have some usable vision, commonly described as low vision.

Common types of vision loss from AREDs are:

  • Central vision loss (age-related macular degeneration)
  • Side (peripheral) vision loss (glaucoma)
  • Overall blurring, clouding of images, sensitivity to light, and decreased contrast (cataracts)
  • Spotty field of vision (diabetic retinopathy)

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in the aging population and the leading cause of blindness among white persons. More than one in 10 white Americans over age 80 has vision loss from AMD (Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group, 2004).

Glaucoma and cataracts are the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. Older African Americans are twice as likely to have glaucoma as older whites (15% versus 7%), according to the Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group.

Annual eye exams are essential for preventing and/or delaying eye disease for those at higher risk, such as anyone over age 65; people with diabetes; anyone with a family history of glaucoma or AMD; and African Americans over age 40, who are at a higher risk than the general population for glaucoma (Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group, 2004).

Blindness or low vision affects approximately 1 in 28 Americans older than 40 years (Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group, 2004).

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