A study published by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Roski Eye Institute in JAMA Ophthalmology found that the U.S. prevalence in blindness and visual impairment (VI) may double over the next 35 years. By 2050, eye disease and impairment issues, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (DR) and cataracts, will dramatically increase. The impact on both individuals and society will be dramatic.
The National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded study, led by principal investigator, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, found that by 2050, 16.4 million Americans over age 40 will have visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error compared to 8.2 million in 2015. In addition, more than 2 million age 40+ will be blind and 6.95 million will have visual impairmentby 2050 compared to 1.02 million and 3.22 million respectively from 2015 census data.
The groups most at risk — non-Hispanic whites, older Americans and women — do not change from 2015 data to 2050 projections. However, while African Americans have the highest prevalence of blindness and visual impairmenttoday (15.2 percent today growing to 16.3 percent by 2050), the Hispanic population will become the most at risk minority group for both visual impairmentand blindness increasing from 9.9 percent today to 20.3 percent in 2050.
“This study gives us a GPS for our nation’s future eye health,” said Varma. “Increased education and vision screenings are critical for both younger and older Americans, but especially women and minorities over age 40, to prevent vision impairment that can dramatically worsen their quality of life. The earlier we can diagnose these blinding eye diseases through an annual eye exam and obtain eye care, the more people will have the chance to live longer lives without the physical limitations and emotional challenges of vision loss and blindness.”
According to Prevent Blindness America the economic burden from vision loss and eye disorders cost the U.S. $139 billion in 2013. When compared to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2010 data on the annual economic impact of chronic conditions such as heart disease/stroke ($315 billion), diabetes ($245 billion) and cancer ($157 billion) — vision impairment and loss is among the costliest health conditions in the nation.
Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, Millenials (born 1982 — 2004) have recently surpassed the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964) as the largest age cohort in the U.S., but it is the aging boomers who are driving the increase in vision impairment and blindness over the next 35 years. By 2050, 86.7 million boomers will be over the age of 65 — almost 1 in 5 Americans — when many debilitating eye diseases and vision loss can occur.
The researchers examined six major U.S. population-based studies on visual impairmentand blindness and pooled the data from adults age 40 and above. Demographic and geographic variations including reporting by age, gender, race/ethnicity and per capita prevalence by state using U.S. Census projections were analyzed to calculate the study findings.
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