Between 2002 and 2017, the number of people at high risk for vision
loss - seniors, people with diabetes and those with eye disorders -
rose from 65 million to 93 million, but 40% of adults said they
hadn't been getting yearly eye exams, researchers report in JAMA
Nearly 1 in 10 also said they couldn't afford eyeglasses.
"We have a large number of adults at high risk for vision loss and
at high risk for not receiving recommended eye care," said study
leader Sharon Saydah of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. "The solution is to really improve access, awareness and
the affordability of eye care."
Saydah and colleagues looked at nationally-representative surveys of
31,000 adults in 2002 and nearly 33,000 adults in 2017.
The proportion at increased risk for vision loss grew between the
two surveys: adults over age 65 rose from about 51% to 53% of the
total, and those with a diabetes diagnosis rose from about 21% to
People reporting vision problems or eye diseases such as age-related
macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or eye injury
grew from 9% in 2002 to almost 11% in 2017, the study found.
Among all adults, the proportion who said they couldn't afford
eyeglasses rose from 8.3% in 2002 to 8.7% in 2017.
While not having corrective lenses won't lead to vision damage, it
can lead to injury, Saydah said. "Having poor vision and not being
able to see properly can contribute to falls and can lead to other
disabilities," she said.
A major factor leading to vision loss in seniors is high blood
sugar, Saydah said. "But if diabetes is managed properly and blood
sugar levels are controlled, that can help reduce vision loss," she
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While U.S. seniors are covered by Medicare, the original version of the federal
health insurance program for those 65 and older doesn't cover regular eye exams
unless the patient has diabetes or is at high risk for glaucoma.
In 2017, among adults at high risk of blindness, 57% reported visiting an eye
care professional annually and 60% had received a dilated eye examination.
"This study highlights critical gaps in eye care access and affordability in the
United States, and indicates these gaps have persisted despite shifts in our
health insurance landscape," Bonnielin Swenor, of the Wilmer Eye Institute and
the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in an
"This study is not examining a question about improving eye conditions, but
instead focuses on access and affordability of eyeglasses," said Swenor, who
wasn't involved in the study. "Currently most medical insurance and Medicare do
not cover the costs of eyeglasses, which this data support as an important gap
for the American population."
Unless something changes, the problem is likely to get worse, said Dr. Syed
Mahmood Ali Shah, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
While there was a slight increase over the past 15 years in the percentage of
patients getting examined, the number of elderly with diabetes is expected to
double by 2040, said Shah, who was not involved in the new research.
Shah suspects cost is the big reason for patients skipping eye exams. Even among
those with some coverage, there can be a significant copay, he said, which "not
everyone can afford."
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/33o0OFm JAMA Ophthalmology, online March 12, 2020.
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