Blind World

Older Americans at Higher Risk of Blindness.

April 12, 2004.

By Andrew Stern,

CHICAGO - Americans are increasingly susceptible to blindness as they grow older, with three out of 100 of those over 40 years old suffering impaired vision and blacks at particular risk, researchers said on Monday.

In the first study in decades to estimate the prevalence of vision problems among Americans, a group of researchers concluded that 937,000 Americans older than 40 were blind in 2000.

An additional 2.4 million people, or 2.8 percent of the 120 million Americans over age 40, suffered diminished vision, leaving them unable to drive a vehicle or perform other tasks.

The report found that blacks over age 40 were three times more likely to go blind than whites, with the causes of vision loss among many blacks considered more preventable.

The study, which compiled data from a decade of research, projected that 5.5 million Americans, or 3.6 percent of those over 40, would be visually impaired by 2020. Of those, 1.6 million will be blind.

Macular degeneration, a worsening condition of the retina that is difficult to treat, caused 54 percent of blindness among whites, while cataracts and glaucoma together caused more than 60 percent of vision loss among blacks.

In contrast to macular degeneration, in which vitamins and laser surgery can help lessen vision loss, cataracts and glaucoma are usually treatable, especially if caught early.

Cataracts, which are protein fibers in the lens that turn opaque, can be removed surgically. Eye drops, drugs and surgery can ease the fluid buildup symptomatic of glaucoma, which often damages blood vessels and the optic nerve.

The racial disparity in the causes of blindness relates to several factors, including that blacks generally receive less eye care than whites, the study said.

"Blindness from glaucoma is four to five times as common among blacks (than whites), probably because of genetic differences and exacerbated by differences in access to care," the study's lead author, Nathan Congdon of Johns Hopkins University, said in a telephone interview.

Blacks were less likely than whites to suffer from macular degeneration but more likely to suffer from diabetes-related retinopathy, the study found.

Glaucoma was the leading cause of blindness among Hispanics, based on limited data.

The findings, which were published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, a journal published by the American Medical Association, point to the importance of detecting and treating vision problems early, said Paul Sieving, director of the U.S. National Eye Institute.

"Developing blindness prevention strategies could help address the potentially devastating impact of the increased prevalence of eye diseases in the next few decades," he said.

End of article.

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