Older Americans are concerned about their vision, and rightly so. Degenerative eye conditions, especially cataract and age-related macular degeneration, become increasingly common as we age.
About one-fourth of us over age 65 have early signs of macular degeneration in our retinas that place us at increased risk for progressing to advanced macular degeneration over the next 10 years. Advanced age-related macular degeneration, AMD, which eventually destroys central vision, is the most common cause of legal blindness and visual impairment in older Americans. The National Eye Institute estimates that 1.6 million seniors have advanced AMD and 8 million are at risk of losing vision from this condition over the next five years.
In addition, by age 75, most of us will have to deal with either cataract surgery or a vision-limiting cataract by curtailing activities, such as driving.
Treatments are expensive. AMD drains $570 million every year in direct medical costs; cataract surgery has been the single most expensive line item in the Medicare budget.
Fortunately, the past two decades of research suggest measures we can take to protect both our eyes and budgets. Payback could be enormous: Former National Eye Institute director Dr. Karl Kupfer estimated that slowing the development of cataracts by 10 years could cut the number of needed surgeries in half.
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