Survey Shows That Americans Lack Significant Knowledge of Age-Related Vision Problems
ST. LOUIS, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ — It’s a fact of life that eyes change with age, and baby boomers – Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – are at the stage when many are affected by vision problems. Despite the prevalence of Americans affected by these changes, a new survey from the American Optometric Association (AOA) shows a concerning lack of public knowledge and misunderstanding regarding age-related eye diseases and conditions.
According to the AOA’s American Eye-Q® survey, which assesses public knowledge and understanding of issues related to eye and visual health, only 18 percent of Americans know that macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults 65 years of age and older, and less than a quarter of all Americans understand the effects of glaucoma. Even more concerning, 89 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that glaucoma is preventable, when in fact it is only treatable if caught early.
Americans who are 40 years of age or older have probably noticed changes in vision. Difficulties seeing clearly for reading and close work are among the most common problems adults develop between the ages of 41 to 60. According to the Eye-Q® survey, top concerns about the effects of vision problems include not being able to live independently, cited by 45 percent; not being able to see loved ones, 21 percent; being unable to read, 20 percent and losing the ability to drive, 11 percent.
"When left undetected and untreated, many age-related eye diseases can damage your vision permanently," said Mark Wilkinson, O.D., Chair of the AOA’s Vision Rehabilitation Section. "The good news is that most people can preserve their vision with proper treatment, so the key is early detection."
Age-related vision disorders baby boomers and seniors should be aware of include:
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – an eye disease that causes loss of central vision. Activities like reading, driving, watching TV and recognizing faces all require clear central vision.
Diabetic retinopathy – a condition occurring in people with diabetes, which causes progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. If left untreated, it can cause blindness.
Cataracts – a cloudy or opaque area in the clear lens of the eye. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other. Cataracts can cause a decrease in contrast sensitivity, a dulling of colors and increased sensitivity to glare.
Glaucoma – a group of eye diseases characterized by damage to the optic nerve resulting in peripheral vision loss. People at higher risk of developing glaucoma include those with a family history of the disease, older adults, African-Americans and Hispanics.
Dry eye – a condition where there is an insufficient amount of tears or a poor quality of tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears contribute to clear vision and the health of the front surface of the eye.
Retinal detachment – tearing or separation of the retina from the underlying tissue. This can be caused by trauma to the eye or head, health problems due to advanced diabetes, and inflammatory disorders of the eye.
The good news is the majority of the American Eye-Q® survey respondents (92 percent) understand that visiting an eye doctor on a regular basis for comprehensive eye exams can help reduce the risk of developing age-related vision problems. The bad news is that respondents were less aware that avoiding smoking (40 percent) and eating a low-fat, low-salt diet (30 percent) can also reduce age-related vision problems.
"Some common warning signs of age-related vision problems include fluctuating vision, seeing floaters or flashes of light, loss of side vision and seeing distorted images," said Dr. Wilkinson. "However, often patients with eye diseases do not have recognizable symptoms until the conditions are quite advanced, so regular comprehensive eye exams are essential for baby boomers and seniors."
Addressing Age-Related Vision Problems
The American Eye-Q® survey also revealed that respondents age 55 and older are taking steps to address their age-related vision problems. Thirty three percent said they limit their night driving; 27 percent use brighter lights; 24 percent use wetting eye drops or artificial tears and 18 percent purchase or request items in large print.
Adding certain nutrients to one’s diet every day – either through foods or supplements – can help preserve vision and prevent age-related eye diseases.
The AOA recommends the following eye-healthy nutrients and foods:
Lutein and zeaxanthin: Colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, green beans, peas, oranges and tangerines
Essential fatty acids: Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, or herring; whole-grain foods; chicken and eggs
Vitamin C: Fruits and vegetables, including oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, green peppers and tomatoes
Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, such as safflower or corn oil; almonds and pecans; sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds
Zinc: Extra-lean red meat, poultry, liver, shellfish, milk, baked beans and whole grains
Dealing with Vision Loss
Comprehensive eye exams are important for Americans of all ages, but become especially important later in life when more Americans develop age-related conditions and begin taking medications more frequently. The AOA recommends that adults over age 60 have a comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist once a year or more frequently if a doctor recommends it.
For patients with age-related vision loss, a specialized examination by an optometrist who treats vision impairment is a critical first step in the care process that focuses on maintaining and/or regaining independence and maximizing useful remaining vision. Prescribed treatment options commonly include specialized reading spectacles, spectacle-mounted telescopes, hand-held magnifiers and telescopes, therapeutic filters, specialized contact lenses, field enhancement treatments, and video magnification technology that both enlarge and enhance the contrast of reading materials.
There also are numerous other assistive products that can help with daily activities for people who have vision impairment, such as large-type books, magazines, and newspapers, books-on-tape, talking wristwatches, self-threading needles, and more. To learn more about vision rehabilitation and available treatment options, talk to an optometrist.
For additional information about aging eyes or to find a doctor of optometry in your area, please visit www.aoa.org.
About the survey:
The fourth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From May 21 – 24, 2009, using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level.)
About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.