Date: May 1st, 2012
An estimated 2.3 million Americans are living with glaucoma and because it is a disease of aging, that number is expected to climb during this decade—surpassing 3.3 million by 2020—a 50% increase. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that are associated with elevated eye pressure that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss. That vision loss can usually be prevented with early detection and proper treatment and disease management, yet glaucoma continues to be one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.
This is because many of the glaucoma cases go undiagnosed and because diagnosed cases too often go untreated.
Under Diagnosis and Poor Treatment Adherence
As many as 50% of people with glaucoma don’t know that they have the disease. The increased pressure and resulting damage often progress silently without any noticeable symptoms. While treatment can prevent the damage, once the damage is done it is irreversible. This makes regular eye exams critical.
The American Optometric Association recommends that healthy adults get a comprehensive eye exam every two years until age 60—and once a year after that. People with risk factors for glaucoma should go more often and those diagnosed with eye disease should follow their eye doctor’s recommendations. A comprehensive eye exam includes dilating the eye so that the optic nerve can be thoroughly examined and signs of glaucoma can be detected.
Many older Americans don’t understand the risks of glaucoma and don’t know they are at risk because of their age alone. Those that are younger may think it’s only a disease of old age and ignore the other risk factors including family history, race, and nearsightedness.
To complicate matters, older Americans often face a variety of chronic diseases. The average 75-year-old suffers from 3 chronic conditions at once. This can make it hard to find time and eye exams may fall to the bottom of a list of what they believe to be more serious diseases or conditions.
Those that do go for a regular eye exam may decline dilation because they believe it’s not necessary since they most likely received a “puff test” at the start of their exam. This is the test where the doctor directs a puff of air at your eye and measures its pressure. While it can detect high eye pressure from glaucoma, it is inadequate compared to examination of the optic nerve. The puff is not enough!
Once diagnosed, adherence—continuing treatments as recommended—is also poor. “There is a silent nature to glaucoma, which often makes it difficult for people to take the condition seriously until irreversible damage is done,” said Scott Christensen, president and CEO of The Glaucoma Foundation. One study found that at least two-thirds of patients with primary open-angle glaucoma (the most common kind) and ocular hypertension (high pressure without the signs of glaucoma) stopped taking their recommended therapy within the first year. Another study found that those patients with poor adherence were five times as likely to experience progression of the disease, compared to those that followed their treatment plan.
Regular eye drops are often the recommended treatment and this can become burdensome, especially when there is no apparent vision loss and the symptoms are not noticeable. When a treatment doesn’t seem to be making a difference, it’s that much easier to avoid. Unfortunately, irreversible damage is likely happening while treatments are missed.
T.A.K.E. on Glaucoma
This is why the Alliance for Aging Research partnered with The Glaucoma Foundation, with support from Merck, to launch the T.A.K.E (Take Action to Know Your Eyes) on Glaucoma Campaign. The major goal of the campaign is to educate Americans about the disease and to empower those diagnosed to take an active role in managing their disease.
The campaign website includes a quiz for those both undiagnosed and diagnosed to test their knowledge about the disease, an expert video that addresses many of the obstacles to optimal outcomes, basic facts and information about glaucoma, and resources for getting more information. The Alliance, The Glaucoma Foundation, and Merck hope that by raising awareness about the disease and its optimal treatment, blindness from glaucoma will become a thing of the past.
The Silver Book: Vision Loss Volume II
Released as a part of World Glaucoma Week, The Silver Book: Vision Loss Volume II brings together compelling statistics that highlight the mounting burden of vision loss and the power of innovation in reducing that burden. This volume includes updated data on age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma—which along with cataract are the eye diseases that disproportionately impact older Americans.
This new volume is the latest from a trusted resource for policymakers and thought leaders that helps make the case for investments in research and innovation rather than short-term cost-cutting and health care rationing. To access this data visit www.silverbook.org.