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National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) Fact Sheet

VISION IMPAIRMENT AND EYE DISEASE IS A MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM

The National Eye Institute (NEI) recognizes vision impairment and eye disease as a major public health problem that is:

  • growing ever larger due to an aging population;

  • disproportionately incident in minority populations; and

  • a significant co-morbid condition from the epidemic of diabetes, specifically diabetic retinopathy.

Although the NEI estimates that the current annual cost of vision impairment and eye disease to the United States is $68 billion, this number does not fully quantify the impact of lost productivity, diminished quality of life, increased depression and accelerated mortality. And as noted above, this financial burden to both the public and private sector is expected to increase dramatically as the number and proportion of seniors increases.

In public opinion polls over the past 40 years, Americans have consistently identified fear of vision loss as second only to fear of cancer. In recent NEI-sponsored research, patients with advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) equated that condition to the gravest chronic diseases. These societal implications of visual impairment and eye disease are important because the year 2000 census counted more than 119 million Americans age 40+ who are most at risk from age-related eye disease such as AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

In 2004, NEI released studies that reported on: the incidence of visual impairment and eye disease in Americans age 40+; an African American subset analysis in its Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study (OHTS); and initial findings from its Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES). Combined, the results of these three studies reveal that:

  • Blindness or low vision currently affects 3.3 million Americans age 40+, or one in 28, and is projected to reach 5.5 million by year 2020.

  • Age-related eye diseases currently affect more than 35 million Americans age 40+, and include intermediate-to-advanced AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. This number is projected to increase to about 50 million by the year 2020.

  • More than 1.8 million Americans currently have advanced AMD, and this number is expected to grow to 3 million by the year 2020. Another 7.3 million Americans currently have intermediate-stage AMD. Currently, 200,000 Americans each year develop advanced AMD, and this number is expected to double by 2020. Because AMD affects the macula which is necessary for central vision, it dramatically affects quality of life by depriving the individual of the ability to read and drive. This condition has an enormous impact on the health and independence of older Americans.

  • Glaucoma, a chronic potentially blinding disease that requires life-long treatment, currently affects 2.2 million Americans, with 3.3 million more expected to develop it by the year 2020. Glaucoma is now the leading cause of blindness in the fast-growing Hispanic population age 65+ and is almost three times as common in African Americans as in White Americans. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the African American population.

  • Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the industrialized world in people between ages 25 and 74. It currently affects 4.1 million Americans age 40+, or one out of 12 Americans with diabetes in that age group, and is expected to increase to 7.2 million by the year 2020. Many people do not know they are diabetic until symptoms, such as vision loss, occur. With estimates of 50 million Americans having diabetes by the year 2020 at a yearly cost of $1 trillion, and one-third of all American children born in year 2000 developing it in their lifetimes, there will be increasing demand for new treatments and prevention therapies.

  • Cataracts, which are the leading cause of low vision, currently affect nearly 20.5 million Americans age 65+, which is projected to increase to 30.1 million Americans by the year 2020.

Research has resulted in an array of new treatments and therapies for several of these conditions, for example, FDA-approved treatments to control abnormal blood vessel growth in "wet" AMD and pressure-reducing drugs to stabilize vision loss in glaucoma.

The expanding population at risk for eye and vision disease will increasingly demand new and more effective therapies that not only stabilize vision loss but restore it, or even ultimately prevent the onset of these diseases. The time from "bench to bedside" needs to be quickened so that the benefits of discoveries can meet the growing unmet medical need.

For more information, contact:

James Jorkasky, NAEVR Executive Director
240-221-2905; jamesj@eyeresearch.org