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HomemifeatureEyes on the Future: Vision and Ageing

Eyes on the Future: Vision and Ageing

At the launch of World Sight Day on 9 October 2008, Ms Noeline Brown, the Ambassador for Ageing, will call on Australians to protect their eyes as they get older and have regular eye tests to help prevent permanent vision loss in later years.

More than 500,000 Australians over the age of 40 are vision impaired or blind and approximately 75 per cent of their conditions were preventable or treatable1.

The Direct Link

There is a direct link between ageing and vision loss. In Australia, after the age of 40 the likelihood of developing blindness or vision loss increases up to threefold with each decade of age.

In 2004, it was estimated that 0.6 per cent of the Australian population between 40 and 49 years had a vision impairment. A vision impairment is defined as acuity of less than 6/12 and includes blindness. This figure increased to 2.3 per cent of people between 50 to 59 years of age. Prevalence of vision impairment continues to increase to nearly 29 per cent of Australians 80 to 89 years of age and 40 per cent for those 90 and over2.

People with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration should have their eyes tested every two years

Victorian research conducted in 2005 shows that 30 per cent of the state’s population aged between 35 and 44 reported a change in their vision over a 12 month period. This rose to over 66 per cent in people between 45 and 54 years of age3.

The main eye diseases that cause blindness in Australia are macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy. Together with the nearly 300,000 Australians over the age of 50 who have under-corrected or uncorrected refractive error, these conditions account for more than 90 per cent of vision loss among older Australians.

For instance, macular degeneration affects one in seven Australians over the age of 50 and nearly 31 per cent of the population over the age of 55 has cataract. Incidence of both of these conditions increases with age. This is also true of glaucoma. Primary open angle glaucoma affects about one per cent of Australians between 50 and 59 years rising to almost 10 per cent of Australians over 80 years of age4.

Early detection is critical

The earlier a condition is detected and treated the better the outcome. Early treatment also reduces the chance of further vision impairment or blindness in later years. For example, with early detection 98 per cent of vision loss associated with diabetic retinopathy can be prevented.

On World Sight Day 2008, Vision 2020 Australia and its 58 members aim to raise awareness of this important public health issue, particularly among people over the age of 40, and send a message that they need to take care of their eye health now.

People over 40 years of age should have their eyes tested regularly and visit an eye health professional immediately if they notice any changes in their vision.

People with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration should have their eyes tested every two years.

Australians of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent are more at risk of certain eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and cataract than the rest of the population and should also have their eyes tested every two years.

The impact of blindness and vision loss on Australians and their community is significant.

Vision loss is expensive. Annual costs, both direct and indirect, due to vision loss are estimated at AUD$9.85 billion in Australia. This includes an estimated AUD $1.8 billion in lost earnings. The direct health cost of treating eye disease is estimated at AUD $1.584 billion, greater than that of diabetes (AUD $836 million) and asthma (AUD $615 million) combined.

Importantly, low vision not only significantly impacts an individual’s contribution to their community but also affects their emotional wellbeing.

People who are blind or vision impaired are much less likely to work and are less independent than peers with normal vision. They are more likely to have falls or other accidents, including traffic accidents, and can easily lose confidence in their ability to manage everyday life.

As a result, as a group, people who are blind or vision impaired are at increased risk of depression. They enter nursing homes two years earlier than their peers and die younger5.

Early intervention enables people to maintain their independence. Timely access to low vision services can have a dramatic impact on a person’s quality of life, enabling people with vision loss to lead full and active lives.

About World Sight Day

‘Eyes on the future – vision and ageing’ is the theme for World Sight Day 2008, focusing on the impact of vision loss and blindness for people over the age of 40.

World Sight Day takes place annually on the second Thursday in October. It is the focus of a global awareness raising campaign that is implemented by members of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a joint global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

In Australia, World Sight Day activity is led by Vision 2020 Australia’s 58 member organisations. Member organisations work individually and together to develop and implement events and activities focussed on the theme for the year.

This year the Optometrists Association Australia and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists are calling on their members to become involved in raising awareness of eye health and vision care issues affecting older Australians in their community or practice.

Across Australia low vision service providers such as Vision Australia, Association for the Blind of WA and Guide Dogs Victoria will work to increase public understanding of the importance of maintaining quality of life regardless of the level of an individual’s vision impairment.

The Fred Hollows Foundation will host three photographic exhibitions in Darwin, Melbourne and Sutherland in New South Wales,

The Macular Degeneration Foundation will raise awareness of the leading cause of blindness in Australia, stressing the importance of early intervention to achieve the best outcomes. Glaucoma Australia will also work to increase public’s understanding of glaucoma, another major cause of blindness and vision loss in Australia.

To find out more about what is happening around Australia on World Sight Day 2008 visit www.vision2020australia.org.au.

Monique van Wierst is the event and public relations manager for Vision 2020 Australia. Vision 2020 Australia is the peak advocacy body for the eye health and vision care sector in Australia. It’s 58 member organisations work together to prevent avoidable blindness and improve vision care.

mivision was the first officially endorsed ophthalmic media partner of Vision 2020 Australia.

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, July 2005, Vision problems among older Australians, Bulletin 5. Issue 27.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, July 2005, Vision problems among older Australians, Bulletin 5. Issue 27.
  3. State Government of Victoria, Victorian Population Health Survey 2005
  4. Access Economics Pty Ltd, Tunnel Vision – The Economic Impact of Primary Open Angle Glaucoma, a dynamic Economic Model, February 2008
  5. Access Economics Pty Ltd, Clear Insight – The Economic Impact and Cost of Vision Loss in Australia, August 2004