A large study carried out by researchers from the University of Michigan in the United States has revealed that a large number of the ageing population are now affected by serious vision impairment.
The researchers in the study published in The Lancet Global Health found that despite the increase in vision loss among the elderly, their eye care needs are not being met.
According to the study, there wasn’t any significant reduction in the number of people with treatable vision loss in the last ten years.
The study team assesses a collection of secondary data every five years, undertaking a meta-analysis of population-based surveys of eye disease assembled by the Vision Loss Expert Group and spanning from 1980 to 2018.
The researchers found that cataracts and the unmet need for glasses were the most prevalent causes of moderate to severe vision impairment among the ageing population.
Other causes are refractive error and diabetic retinopathy.
They noted that the high level of unmet needs found in the study negates the international targets to reduce avoidable vision loss.
The researchers say eye care accessibility around the globe isn’t keeping up with an ageing population, thereby posing challenges for eye care professionals over the next 30 years.
Commenting on the importance of the study, one of the authors, an ophthalmologist at Kellogg Eye Center, Dr. Joshua Ehrlich said, “This is important because when we think about setting a public health agenda, knowing the prevalence of an impairment, what causes it, and where in the world it’s most common informs the actions that key decision-makers like the World Health Organisation and ministries of health take to allocate limited resources.”
Another study author, Dr. Del Monte, said, “We found that the age-standardised prevalence is decreasing around the world, which tells us eye care systems and quality of care are getting better.
“However, as populations age, a larger number of people are being affected by serious vision impairment, suggesting we need to improve access to care and further develop human resources to provide care.
“In fact, there wasn’t any significant reduction in the number of people with treatable vision loss in the last ten years, which paled in comparison to the World Health Assembly Global Action Plan target of a 25 per cent global reduction of avoidable vision loss in this same time frame.”
Monte further explained, “Although findings varied by region globally, cataracts and the unmet need for glasses were the most prevalent causes of moderate to severe vision impairment.
“Approximately 45 per cent of the 33.6 million cases of global blindness were caused by cataracts, which can be treated with surgery.
“Refractive error, which causes a blurred image resulting from an abnormal shape of the cornea and lens not bending light correctly, accounted for vision loss in 86 million people across the globe.”
Reacting to the study in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, a Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr. Adetunji Adenekan, said ageing as a process is associated with a lot of changes in the body, stressing that the eye is not an exception.
Adenekan who is Chairman, Lagos State Branch of the Nigerian Medical Association, said, “For the eye, there are a lot of things that happen as people grow older.
“Basically, there are conditions that are associated with the elderly and visual impairment is one and this applies to those that are 50 years and above. There are also physiological changes that happen as people get older in which the nerves are affected. This is called presbyopia. People with the condition have difficulty reading small print.”
The ophthalmologist noted that the ageing population were also faced with other major eye conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Calling for improved access to eye care, Adenekan said, “We already have a lot of work to do because the ratio of an ophthalmologist to patients is so much.
“We are so few in Nigeria. What we need to do is to incorporate eye care into universal health coverage. We need to focus on patient-centred eye care, not just hospital care. We need to know the visual needs of our country.”
He urged people to go for a regular eye check and also appreciate their vision by taking care of their eyes.
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