Age-related Vision Loss a Major Public Health Problem Says the National Eye Institute in Capitol Hill Briefing

May 14, 2004
CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
Executive Director
[email protected]

Age-Related Vision Loss A Major Public Health Problem Says the National Eye Institute in Capitol Hill Briefing

(Washington, DC) In a Capitol Hill Briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) on “The Aging Eye,” Dr. Janine Smith, Deputy Clinical Director for the National Eye Institute (NEI), reported that 3.3 million Americans age 40 and older are blind or have low vision, and this number is expected to increase to 5.5 million by 2020 as a result of an aging population. Americans age 80 and older, although currently only 8% of the population, account for 69% of blindness, but this is the fastest growing segment of the population.

Citing these data from a recently released NEI-sponsored study by the Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group (published in the April 2004 Archives of Ophthalmology), Dr. Smith addressed the impact of vision loss on quality of life. “Blindness and loss of vision can lead to loss of independence and reduced quality of life, as well as an overall impact on health, since it can also lead to an increased risk of falls and an increased risk of depression,” said Smith.

Physician-researcher Dr. Paul Kaufman (University of Wisconsin at Madison) described the physiological changes in the eye that result in glaucoma (loss of peripheral vision), age-related macular degeneration (loss of central vision), diabetic retinopathy (occluded field of vision), and cataracts (blurred vision). “More than 35 million Americans age 40 and older have one of these conditions, in addition to the 3.3 million already blind or with low vision. Glaucoma, for example, disproportionately affects Hispanics and African Americans, and is now the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in the Hispanic population and a leading cause in the African American population. More than one in 10 white Americans age 80 and older has vision loss from AMD,” said Kaufman.

Dr. Smith and Dr. Kaufman described NEI-sponsored research and clinical studies aimed at treating and potentially delaying or ultimately preventing the onset of these conditions. “People are living longer and are experiencing the changes that occur as the eye ages”, said Kaufman. “With the annual economic and societal cost of eye disease and vision impairment at $68 billion and growing, spending now on eye and vision research at the NEI is a wise federal investment.”

Congressman Ralph Regula (R-OH), Chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, provided a welcome at the event, in which he acknowledged the importance of NEI-sponsored research. “In addition to representation from Appropriations, we also had staff from the Older Americans, Vision, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses, which speaks volumes to the broad and significant impact of aging eye issues on public health,” said AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky, who also noted that May is both Older Americans and Healthy Vision Month.

The Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Congress and the public about the importance of federal funding for eye and vision research. AEVR is the first organization of its kind to bring together stakeholders in the research community–including ophthalmic and optometric professionals, consumer advocates, and manufacturers–to speak with a unified voice about the economic and societal value of eye and vision research.

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) is a non-profit advocacy coalition comprised of nearly 50 professional, consumer, and industry organizations involved in eye and vision research. NAEVR’s goal is to achieve the best vision for all Americans through advocacy and public education for eye and vision research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Eye Institute (NEI), and other federal research entities. Visit NAEVR’s Web site at

After providing a welcome to attendees, Cong. Ralph Regula (R-OH) listens to the presentations, accompanied by staff members Judith Kalish and Viquar Ahmad.

Speaker Dr. Janine Smith (NEI) speaks with Ritchie Geisel, CEO of Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Speaker Dr. Paul Kaufman (University of Wisconsin at Madison) answers an attendee’s question.

Attendees listen intently to Dr. Smith’s presentation.