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Blindness in US will double by 2050: study

Friday, May 20, 2016,17:21 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Los Angeles | Prevalence in visual impairment (VI) and blindness in the US is expected to double over the next 35 years, a new study led by an Indian-origin researcher has warned.

By 2050, the number of Americans with a variety of eye disease and impairment issues, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (DR) and cataracts, will dramatically increase impacting both individuals and society, according to researchers from University of Southern California led by Rohit Varma.

They found that by 2050, 16.4 million Americans over age 40 will have VI due to uncorrected refractive error compared to 8.2 million in 2015. In addition, more than 2 million aged above 40 will be blind and 6.95 million will have VI by 2050 compared to 1.02 million and 3.22 million respectively from 2015 census data.

The groups most at risk – non-Hispanic whites, older Americans and women – do not change from 2015 data to 2050 projections, researchers said.

However, while African Americans have the highest prevalence of blindness and VI today (15.2 per cent today growing to 16.3 per cent by 2050), the Hispanic population will become the most at risk minority group for both VI and blindness increasing from 9.9 per cent today to 20.3 per cent in 2050, they said.

Increased education and vision screenings are critical for both younger and older Americans, but especially women and minorities over age 40, to prevent vision impairment that can dramatically worsen their quality of life, said Varma, interim dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Roski Eye Institute.

Based on US Census Bureau data, Millennials (born 1982 – 2004) have recently surpassed the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964) as the largest age cohort in the US, but it is the ageing boomers who are driving the increase in vision impairment and blindness over the next 35 years, researchers said. By 2050, 86.7 million boomers will be over the age of 65 – almost 1 in 5 Americans – when many debilitating eye diseases and vision loss can occur, they said.

Other studies have identified that people who are visually impaired or blind can suffer both physical and mental health decline including an increased risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes, unintended injuries including a higher risk for falls, social isolation and withdrawal from activities that require driving or independent mobility, depression and even death, researchers said.

They examined six major US population-based studies on VI and blindness and pooled the data from adults age 40 and above.

Demographic and geographic variations including reporting by age, gender, race/ethnicity and per capita prevalence by state using US Census projections were analysed to calculate the findings.