According to the National Eye Institute , blindness or significant sight loss affects 3.3 million Americans age 40 and over, or almost 4 of every 100 people.This is expected to increase to over 5 million individuals by 2020 as the boomer generation ages. Age has a high correlation with visual disability.
People 80 years of age and older are eight percent of the population, but account for close to 70% percent of all cases of blindness.
Sight loss has also been attributed to a significant factor in mortality. Studies have indicated that falls and hip fractures increase with vision loss and and can be deadly in the elderly. Simple steps, like increasing the amount of lighting in living areas and removing obstacles like loose rugs can be great preventative measures. Regular eye exams and cataract treatment when it is impairing mobility are also helpful.
Macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy are the most common eye diseases in Americans age 40 and over. The leading cause of blindness among white Americans is macular degeneration, resoposible for about half of all blindness. African Americans suffer from more severe glaucoma, and cataracts and glaucoma are the leading causes of blindness. In the Hispanics population glaucoma is the most common cause of blindness, although it is not clear that this is a genetic dispositions as it probably is in the African American population.
As the population ages, the focus on annual eye exams and preventative eye care becomes even more important in the fight against blindness. Presently there is one glaucoma eye drop that lowers eye pressure more effectively in African Americans. Gender differences in responses to medication will undoubtedly be found. Future treatments will someday become much more individualized. Someday we can look forward to treatments and medications tailored to our own genetic makeup and the characteristics of the disease. However, prevention will always be the best treatment we have.