Up to 15 Million Americans’ Sight in Jeopardy From Macular Degeneration

Younger People, Women at Significant Risk for Severe Age-related Macular Degeneration

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ — Of the 15 million Americans with macular degeneration, more than 1.5 million people have the late-stage variety of the disease, placing them at significant risk for severe vision loss, according to a recent analysis by the Better Vision Institute (BVI) and the Vision Council of America (VCA). Most alarming of the findings is that nearly 10 percent of the people with late-stage AMD are under 65.

“That’s why all Americans, especially those over 40, need regular eye
exams — which are, in many cases, the only way to prevent the vision loss caused by AMD and other conditions,” said ophthalmologist Susan Taub, MD, FACS, and Chairman of the Better Vision Institute.

Nearly 600,000 men and 930,000 women in the U.S. have late-stage Age-
related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which blurs the sharp central vision critical for detailed activities such as reading, sewing and driving a car. AMD is the No. 1 cause of vision loss and legal blindness in adults over 60 in
the U.S.

While its risk increases with age, AMD is not exclusive to older people, and it is not a normal part of aging. Other risk factors include UV exposure, smoking, certain diet and nutrition deficits, gender, family history, and heart disease. However, the exact cause of AMD is unknown.

“Without proper information, preventive care and treatment, the economic and social impact of widespread vision loss will balloon as the population ages over the next two decades,” explained Dan Perry, Executive Director of the Alliance for Aging Research. The Alliance for Aging Research has teamed up with VCA to inform Americans about AMD, and to urge them to undergo regular
eye exams.

The Analysis:

Using published medical literature and several data sets, including the 2000 U.S. Census, and information provided by the National Institutes of Health, the analysis compared percentages of people with the most severe forms of AMD from four general ethnic backgrounds — Caucasian (whites); African-American (referring to black Americans of all descents); Hispanic (regardless of national descent); and, Asian-American (referring to people of Asian or
related heritage). The analysis also compared the incidence of AMD between the genders in the four ethnic groups.

Among the findings were the following:

* Women of all four major ethnic groups studied are more likely than men to develop late AMD.

— Women account for 55 to 69 percent of the cases in each ethnic group.

— The trend is especially true for African-American women, who
comprise nearly 70 percent of all late-stage AMD cases among blacks.

* African-Americans under 65 are at a higher risk for late AMD than their counterparts of other races.

— 23.5 percent of African-American men with AMD, and 37.8 percent
of African-American women with AMD are under age 65.

— At the other end of the spectrum, 12.4 percent of Caucasian men
with AMD and 5.2 percent of Caucasian women with AMD are under age 65.

* Older Caucasians are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with AMD than other ethnic groups.

— Caucasians are 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late
AMD than African-Americans, Asians or Hispanics. Approximately
2.1 percent of whites over 50 have AMD, compared to 1.3 percent
of blacks and 1.2 percent of Asians and Hispanics.

The Disease:

It is important to understand how AMD affects vision to appreciate fully the impact it has on people’s lives. AMD is basically the deterioration of the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD occurs in two forms: wet, in which the macula is displaced by leaking blood and fluids; and, dry, where the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. AMD usually affects both eyes, but often at different times.

In its early stages, AMD, like many vision problems, doesn’t always carry obvious warning signs and can only be detected by an eyecare professional. If AMD is suspected, a doctor may give a patient a simple test, called an “Amsler Grid,” to take home. When the lines on the grid appear wavy, the patient may be experiencing vision loss due to AMD and should contact the doctor and schedule an eye exam immediately.

“Diagnosis with AMD is not the beginning of the end, it is the first step toward treating AMD,” said Ron De Long, chairman of VCA’s Low Vision Division. The Low Vision group reviews the needs and issue of people whose vision cannot be corrected effectively with glasses, contact lenses, surgery or therapeutics. Also called “partial sight,” low vision interferes with daily activities, and usually results from an eye disease such as glaucoma or
macular degeneration.

“There are more than 20 separate initiatives under way to try to find a cure for AMD or a way to stop or slow its progression,” Mr. De Long explained. “But the vast majority of people can best be helped through a process of low vision rehabilitation, which involves the combination of seeing a low vision doctor, using devices such as magnifiers and task lighting, and training of the patient to adapt to his or her vision impairment.”

Why now?

February is National AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month and continues a year- round effort to remind those over 40 that the only way to fend off disease- related vision loss is through regular eye exams.

People who don’t have regular exams are putting themselves at risk for
permanent vision problems, blindness and life-threatening accidents, as well as the attendant loss of independence. According to the Alliance for Aging Research, older people’s loss of independence alone — whether because of fall-related injuries, the inability to drive or cook, or other causes — costs the American economy $26 billion annually.

“One easy way to stave off the growth of these staggering figures is for seniors to preserve and maintain their vision through regular eye exams,” Mr. Perry said. “But more than the economic effect, the personal return on good eye health — such as seeing grandchildren, reading, or traveling, for example — is immeasurable.”

You can locate a low vision doctor near you by asking your eyecare
practitioner or calling 1-800-455-8006 for information. Consumers are urged to visit http://www.checkyearly.com for information about vision health and to view an Amsler Grid.

Vision Council of America (VCA) is a leading organization in the
ophthalmic industry representing a wide base of global optical manufacturers and distributors. VCA and its membership are visionaries for the industry, working to create awareness of the value of vision care and to grow the eyewear marketplace through education, forums and expositions, industry statistics and data, technical standards, public relations and advocacy.

Better Vision Institute (BVI) is a unique and prestigious medical advisory board to VCA comprising ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians.

Alliance for Aging Research (AAR) — Founded in 1986, the Alliance for
Aging Research is a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to
supporting and accelerating the pace of medical discoveries to vastly improve the universal human experience of aging. The Alliance combines the interests of top scientists, public officials, business executives and foundation leaders to promote a greater national investment in research and new technologies that will prepare our nation for the coming senior boom, and improve the quality of life for today’s older generation.

SOURCE Vision Council of America; Alliance for Aging Research
Web Site: http://www.checkyearly.com

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