It is a well-known fact that as we age, our eyesight worsens. But for an increasing number of individuals, vision loss is attributed to Age-related Macular Degeneration, also known as AMD. This debilitating disease takes two forms, “wet” and “dry” AMD, and affects the macula, the central region of the retina. There is no cure for either, though treatments currently exist for “wet” AMD. The disorder generally occurs in those aged 50 and over, and it is often attributed to a lifetime of UV exposure. The resultant retinal damage leads to loss of central vision. And, while AMD may not always cause total blindness, the compromised vision it creates can interfere with otherwise simple activities such as driving, reading, writing, or even seeing and recognizing faces.
A recent study published in Lancet Global Health indicates that the rate of AMD is on the rise, with an estimated 196 million sufferers projected for 2020 and a staggering 288 million sufferers projected for 2040. This is due to a combination of a growing elderly population that is by nature more susceptible to AMD, coupled with the increase of UV exposure from ozone thinning and blue-light emitting technologies, ultimately leading to retinal cell damage. AMD is ranked third by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a priority eye disease, following closely behind cataracts and glaucoma, and is the primary cause of blindness in industrialized countries.
Despite its prevalence, rate of growth, and impact, there currently is no definitive treatment for the condition. The National Eye Institute suggests vision rehabilitation for those with AMD to adjust to a lifestyle with compromised vision. Yet the consequences of AMD are profound. Lowered and lost vision capacities directly affect life quality, including but not limited to life satisfaction, productivity, and fulfilment. Furthermore, the condition contributes to the $35.4 billion economic burden the US economy alone. With AMD rates rising, it can be projected that this socio-economic burden will rise as well. The impact of the disease is not only felt individually by sufferers but by the community as a whole.
It is puzzling why such an impactful condition is so under-represented and under-researched. The Vision Impact Institute advocates for more research, better intervention, and improved advocacy for both AMD and vision impairment in general. We also call on public health leaders and policymakers to join us as we increase public awareness of visual impairment, the associated socio-economic cost, and the quality of life benefits of corrected vision.