As we close out 2018 and prepare for 2019, AFB would like to share our hopes and dreams for older people in this country: complete and timely access to vision rehabilitation services, including low vision, rehabilitation, orientation and mobility, and employment for older people who have vision loss; and a fundamental change in the public understanding and acceptance of low vision and blindness that promotes equal access to high quality, fully productive, and independent lives and overcomes employment barriers for older people who are visually impaired.
What Makes These Hopes and Dreams Critical to Achieve?
Presently the annual economic impact of major vision problems among Americans older than age 40 is more than $145 billion, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Media Advisory about vision loss.
An estimated 61 million adults in the United States are at high risk for serious vision loss. There are already over 25 million adults with vision loss in the United States, according to the 2016 National Health Interview Survey. In 2016, of all the civilian, non-institutionalized adults ages 65 and up in the U.S, 7.3 million (or 15.1%) experienced vision loss, and 356,000 (or 0.7%) were blind. Another research study projects a near doubling in the number of people with uncorrectable visual impairment and blindness from 2015 to 2050. This is not a low incidence disability.
Yet, according to research commissioned by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), timely diagnosis and early treatment could prevent as much as 98% of visual impairment and blindness in the United States.
Morally and Philosophically:
With proper and timely diagnosis, treatment, training, equipment, and accommodations, people with visual impairments can live independent, full, productive lives. The problem is that many individuals today do not receive the full complement of resources needed to do so. In fact, our data indicates that less than 2% of older persons with vision loss who are eligible for services actually receive them.
Our Challenge To You
An important and immediate population health need is to bolster our ability as a nation to manage the rising challenge of chronic vision loss. Despite enormous potential costs for individuals, caregivers, and society, chronic visual impairments receive little emphasis in most national and public health agendas focused on chronic conditions.
Recommended Actions or Proposed Solutions
Massive public education activities are needed to bring about a fundamental and positive change in public attitudes toward blindness and low vision. Further, legislative action is needed to bring about the following:
- Fewer older people lose vision unnecessarily due to the increase of: information and referral, eye exams, treatment, transportation, and follow-up services
- More older people with vision loss live independently in the setting of their choice with the ability to access needed services and activities within their local community
- Older people with vision loss are empowered to contribute to society by working and volunteering at the same level as their sighted peers
- Fewer older people with vision loss are hospitalized or are admitted to skilled nursing facilities because of early diagnosis, treatment, vision rehabilitation services and chronic disease management, as well as decreased medication errors and falls
- The annual economic cost of vision loss among older people in America is reduced, while quality of life is improved
We would love to hear from you. What do you think? Send us your thoughts in an email to AFB’s National Aging Initiative Specialist, Neva Fairchild, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can change the way the world perceives the rights, capabilities, and skills of older people who are losing their sight.