Blindness Prevalence Projected to Double in Coming Decades

May 23rd 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor

The number of patients with blindness or visual impairment is expected to double over the next 35 years.

The number of patients with blindness or visual impairment is expected to double over the next 35 years.

Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and fellow researchers analyzed the demographic and geographic disparities in visual impairment and blindness in US adults aged 40 years in 2015 and estimated the projected prevalence of these conditions through 2050.

In 2015, there were 1.02 million US adults who were blind, while another 3.22 million had visual impairment defined as best-corrected visual acuity in the better-seeing eye, and 8.2 million others had visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error.

The researchers project that by 2050, the number of those affected by these conditions will double to 2.01 million individuals with blindness, 6.95 million with visual impairment, and 16.4 million with visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error.

After breaking the data down further, the researchers observed that increasing prevalence rates varied among certain racial and ethnic groups, as well as different areas of the country.

In 2015, the prevalence of visual impairment and blindness was highest among non-Hispanic white individuals, women, and older adults. The researchers projected that these groups will remain the most affected through 2050.

Although African-American individuals had the highest prevalence of visual impairment and blindness among minorities in 2015, it’s projected to shift to Hispanic individuals by 2050.

Meanwhile, the states projected to have the highest per capita prevalence of visual impairment are Florida (2.56% in 2015 to 3.98% by 2050) and Hawaii (2.35% in 2015 to 3.93% by 2050), and the states projected to have the highest projected per capita prevalence of blindness are Mississippi (0.79% to 1.25%) and Louisiana (0.79% to 1.20%).

Armed with this information, clinicians should counsel patients about the disease burden of these often-overlooked chronic conditions.

“Targeted education and screening programs for non-Hispanic white women and minorities should become increasingly important because of the projected growth of these populations and their relative contribution to the overall numbers of these conditions,” the researchers advised.

Clinicians can also play an important role in encouraging all patients, but especially older patients, to get their eyes checked regularly to prevent avoidable vision issues.

“Given a projected doubling of the prevalence of [visual impairment] and blindness in the next 35 years,vision screeningand intervention for refractive error and early eye disease may prevent and/or reduce a high proportion of individuals from developing these conditions, enhance their quality of life, and potentially decrease direct and indirect costs to the US economy,” the researchers concluded.

Their study was recently published online inJAMA Ophthalmology.

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