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Aging Baby Boomers Unaware of Eye Risk

Big Rise in Age-Related Eye Diseases Expected
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

eye exam

July 31, 2007 -- Few aging baby boomers are aware of their risk of age-related eye diseases or are doing what they need to do to protect their future vision.

This was the finding from a national survey released today by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) to coincide with new eye disease screening recommendations for adults and the launching of a nationwide public education campaign.

The academy now recommends that adults with no obvious signs or risk factors for eye disease see an ophthalmologist for a baseline screening at age 40.

The AAO’s Marguerite McDonald, MD, says educating baby boomers about their risk for age-related eye diseases and vision loss is critical because more than half will develop one of the diseases over their lifetimes.

McDonald is clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

“There are 76 million boomers and the first one turned 60 last year,” she tells WebMD. “Since then, 330 boomers have turned 60 every hour. This is a looming health crisis, but almost all of these [age-related] conditions can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.”

Aging Eyes = Higher Risk

McDonald said the survey results show that most Americans know very little about the five main age-related eye diseases: cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, and age-related macular degeneration.

The group estimates that by 2020, 43 million people in the U.S. will suffer from age-related eye diseases, compared with 28 million today.

In addition to age, major risk factors include a family history of eye disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Among the major findings from the survey of 1,200 adults:

  • Despite the fact that age is one of the largest risk factors for eye disease, only 10% of people aged 65 or older considered themselves at high risk.
  • More than a third of people in this age group said they did not get annual eye exams.
  • Just 17% of people with a family history of eye disease saw themselves as being at high risk, suggesting that they did not know family history was a strong risk factor for age-related eye disease.
  • 42% of those who answered the survey didn’t know that diabetes was a risk factor for diabetic retinopathy, which is a leading cause of blindness.
  • Just one in four African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians surveyed knew that their ethnicity put them at higher-than-average risk for glaucoma.
  • Only 14% of people who did not wear glasses considered themselves at moderate to high risk for eye disease. Good vision in early to middle adulthood has little bearing on risk for age-related eye disease.

Boomers in the Dark

Fewer than one in seven people surveyed (15%) correctly identified at least half of the listed risk factors for age-related eye diseases.

“The survey shows that Americans are more worried about losing weight or back pain than the possibility of losing their vision,” San Francisco ophthalmologist and AAO spokesman Andrew Iwach, MD, tells WebMD.

The world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, the AAO has launched a new web site -- www.geteyesmart.org -- in its effort to open the public’s eyes about age-related vision problems.

Remaining in the dark, Iwach says, will needlessly increase millions of aging baby boomers' risk of losing their sight.

“The good news is that we are living longer,” he says. “The bad new is that our parts aren’t all lasting so we have to put the effort into maintaining them. People have no problem getting their oil changed when their car is running fine, but they usually don’t think about their vision until there is a problem.”

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