What can stop blindness and vision impairment from doubling by 2050?

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published May 19, 2016

Key Takeaways

In 2015, 1.02 million Americans age 40 and older were legally blind, 3.22 million were visually impaired, and 8.2 million had vision problems due to uncorrected refractive error. In the coming decades, those numbers will only increase, doubling by 2050, according to projections published online May 19, 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology.

But those numbers could be reduced if more Americans get vision screenings and eye exams, researchers explained.

“These findings are an important forewarning of the magnitude of vision loss to come. They suggest that there is a huge opportunity for screening efforts to identify people with correctable vision problems and early signs of eye diseases,” said Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, Director of the National Eye Institute, which funded the study.

“Early detection and intervention—possibly as simple as prescribing corrective lenses—could go a long way toward preventing a significant proportion of avoidable vision loss,” he added.

Refractive error is the leading cause of vision impairment in the United States and worldwide. Undiagnosed refractive error can diminish a person’s quality of life and ability to complete vision-related daily tasks, researchers noted.

Other notable findings of this study include:

  • In 2050, an estimated 6.95 million Americans will be visually impaired (best-corrected visual acuity of less than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye)—an increase of 115.8%.
  • Non-Hispanic whites, women, and older adults will continue to remain the demographic groups with the largest absolute numbers of visual impairment and blindness.
  • Women are projected to outnumber men in terms of visual impairment by 30% to 32%, and in terms of blindness by 6% to 11% by 2050. These differences can be attributed to a higher prevalence and longer life expectancy of women compared with men and that women are generally less likely to be treated for medical conditions.
  • The highest prevalence of visual impairment among non-whites will shift from African Americans (15.2% in 2015 to 16.3% in 2050) to Hispanics (9.9% in 2015 to 20.3% in 2050).
  • The states projected to have the highest per capita prevalence of visual impairment are Florida (2.56% in 2015 to 3.98% in 2050) and Hawaii (2.35% in 2015 and 3.93% in 2050). The states projected to have the highest projected per capita prevalence of blindness are Mississippi (0.83% in 2015 to 1.25% in 2050) and Louisiana (0.79% in 2015 to 1.20% in 2050).

“Based on these data, there is a need for increased screening and interventions across all populations, and especially among non-Hispanic white women,” said study leader Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, Director of the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute, in Los Angeles, CA.

Vision screening, followed by proper refractive correction, could produce clinical improvements in up to 72% of Americans with vision impairment and 22% of those with blindness, the researchers noted.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter