Glaucoma Awareness Month and Vision Loss Impacts on the Aging U.S. Population
Adapted from “United States’ Older Population and Vision Loss: A Briefing” by John D. Crews, DPA, Senior Scientist, VisionServe Alliance
During Glaucoma Awareness Month, VisionServe Alliance and the Aging & Vision Loss National Coalition emphasizes the findings of the Big Data Project for U.S. residents aged 65+. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness and vision loss among older adults. An estimated 2.7 million Americans have Glaucoma, which is projected to increase to 4.2 million by 2030.1 Vision Rehabilitation Services are available in many states to help individuals who have Glaucoma learn to adapt to vision loss and maintain independence.
VisionServe Alliance provides its Big Data Project findings highlighting the broad impacts of vision loss among older adults.
- Prevalence: About 7.3% of older Americans report blindness or low vision. Vision loss is not evenly distributed across U.S. states. Of the Big Data states examined in early 2022, the prevalence of blindness and low vision by state ranged from 5.8% to 12.4%.
- Chronic Conditions: Older adults facing blindness and low vision report a higher prevalence of other chronic conditions, including stroke, arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, and depression.
- Poor health: More than double the number of older adults with blindness and low vision report fair or poor health, compared to adults without vision loss (51% vs. 23%, respectively).
- Physical health: 36% of older people with blindness and low vision report 14 or more days of poor physical health in the past 30 days, compared to 16% of those without blindness and low vision.
- Mental health: 18% of people with blindness and low vision report 14 or more days of poor mental health compared to 7% of those without blindness and low vision.
- Limitation of Activities: This disparity in quality of life is repeated in activity limitation days, with 34% of people with blindness and low vision reporting 14 or more days of activity limitation compared to 19% among those without vision loss.
- Education, Income & Poverty: Older people with blindness and low vision have lower levels of education and are poorer than older people without blindness and low vision. Over one-quarter of older people with blindness and low vision (28.7%) have not graduated from high school, and 37% have annual incomes below $20,000. Poverty and less education can contribute to a higher prevalence of chronic conditions and poorer health-related quality of life. These factors may lead to increased disability.
The Big Data Project
VisionServe Alliance (VSA) and The Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSU) have partnered on the Big Data Project to analyze standardized statewide data and national reports of people who are blind or have low vision. When complete, the project will provide state-level data (for all U.S. states) on the rate of blindness and low vision among people aged 65 years and older. These briefings also describe the rate of chronic conditions, quality of life, and disability indicators among older people with and without blindness and low vision. These data, when informed by the personal experiences of people who have blindness and low vision, serve to define policy decisions and interventions to preserve the independence, dignity, and autonomy of older people with vision loss. By aligning aging services, public health initiatives, transportation resources, and vision rehabilitation programs to meet the needs of older people with blindness and low vision, there is potential to improve health, quality of life, and function and lessen the negative economic impact.
The data sets included in the Big Data Project are the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System(BRFSS) and 2019 American Community Survey (ACS). Currently, state reports are available for California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas, with additional states to be added throughout 2023. Learn more about the VisionServe Alliance Big Data Project and access national and state reports.
Crucial Vision Rehabilitation Services
for Individuals with Vision Loss
Blindness and low vision profoundly affect older people and those who care for and about them. Blindness and low vision can make everyday activities difficult or impossible; for example, climbing stairs, crossing a street, driving, using public transportation, preparing meals, and performing household activities may be compromised.
Older people experiencing blindness and low vision may have difficulty managing accounts, paying bills, and identifying prescribed medications. Falls or fear of falling may further compromise their independence. Blindness and low vision often cause isolation, keeping people at home when they prefer to be with family and friends. Many older people with blindness and low vision do not interact with others going through the same experience, creating further isolation and depression. Many older people with blindness and low vision may wish to continue working, and some older people with vision loss serve as primary caregivers for other family members.
While the circumstances and risk factors associated with aging and blindness, and low vision are serious, much can be done to ameliorate the effects of vision loss. For example, improved access and utilization of vision and eye health, and the availability of comprehensive vision rehabilitation services, promoting independence and autonomy, are effective strategies enabling older people to live independently and remain active in their community.
A central component of support for older people with blindness and low vision is a network of public and private agencies providing vision rehabilitation services addressing communication, activities of daily living, personal care, self-advocacy, travel and mobility skills, diabetes, and medication management, as well as access to assistive technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, and computers).
Services often include counseling, information, and referrals to community resources and support. Vision rehabilitation services generally include low vision evaluations and the provision of adapted vision devices. Moreover, older people with blindness and low vision benefit from peer support groups where older people share everyday experiences and exchange information about successful management strategies. These services are often provided in the client’s home or an agency setting to improve independence, self-esteem, health, and quality of life.
Learn more about the VisionServe Alliance Big Data Project and access national and state reports.
For more information, contact:
Director, Program Development
1National Eye Institute: https://medialibrary.nei.nih.gov/sites/default/files/media-images/NEI-medialibrary-2210886.jpg