Vision loss and blindness are among the top 10 disabilities in the U.S., affecting about 3 percent of Americans.
Loss of vision often affects activities of daily living, and can lead to depression, social isolation, and a greater risk of falls and injuries. An estimated 4 million Americans age 40 or older are either blind or have vision loss.
That number is expected to increase to 10 million by 2050.
The most common causes of vision loss include cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, which affect 38 million in the U.S. In 2013, vision problems cost the U.S. an estimated $145 billion.
Preventative measures to detect and manage eye conditions that can lead to vision loss are readily available and cost-effective. However, many neglect eye care because it often is not covered by insurance.
Medicare, which serves the population at greatest risk for vision loss, provides a benefit for comprehensive dilated eye examination only for those age 65 or older with diabetes or elevated risk for glaucoma.
William White, OD, an optometrist on the medical staff at Scott & White Clinic – Temple, said he was not surprised that vision loss was associated with lower socioeconomic status. He said his colleagues at the Scott & White Eye Institute see evidence of this when they go on medical missions to impoverished countries.
Dr. White said vision loss is typically preventable, but people often neglect it.
“Your eyes don’t hurt. Vision loss happens slowly and painlessly,” he said.
To minimize the risk of vision loss, Dr. White recommends:
- A regular dilated eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, which allows the doctor to examine the back of the for early signs of eye diseases.
- Quitting smoking. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
- A healthy diet, weight management and exercise. “When you have a healthy body, healthy eyes go along with that,” he said.