Americans are living longer than ever. That’s good news, but as people get older, they’re more likely to develop age-related eye diseases that cause vision loss, such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. In fact, 7.3 million American adults 65 years and older report having vision loss, according to the 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). That number will increase significantly in the coming decades, especially as nearly 75 million Americans who make up the Baby Boomer generation get older.
Unfortunately, there’s a general lack of awareness among the public and providers of services for older people about age-related vision loss — in both prevention and access to services to maintain independence if vision loss occurs. The needs of older people who are blind or visually impaired aren’t being met by Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance companies, and many older adults don’t know about the services and resources they should be asking for. Plus, there simply aren’t enough service providers and supports to go around. Although there’s a national program designed to help older adults with vision loss maximize their independence, it’s woefully underfunded and only provides services to approximately 2 percent of its potential clients.
AFB recognizes the need to act urgently to improve awareness and expand the availability and quality of programs and services. People who lose their vision in their later years can find new ways of doing things they’ve always enjoyed and remain independent. However, they need access to specialized support, services, and technology.
To create a world of no limits for older people who are blind or visually impaired, AFB is refining and expanding our strategies to transform aging services and support. Some of this work began as part of the 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss, an AFB-facilitated nationwide collaboration to address the most significant challenges in these areas. That work created a strong foundation for future efforts, setting the stage for the development of meaningful policy, research, and advocacy efforts.
AFB believes that
- Increasing public awareness
- Expanding the workforce qualified to serve older adults with vision loss
- Improving service delivery and funding, and
- Promoting research to foster knowledge-sharing and develop expertise
are among the critical objectives needed to achieve of world of no limits for older Americans who are blind.