Date: October 1st, 2007
As our population ages, the impact of eye disease on our economy will continue to grow, yet new research and treatments hold great promise to blunt the cost and improve patients’ lives.
Eye disease has a disproportionate impact on older Americans. Aging makes us more susceptible to certain eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Close to 10 million Americans have some form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and every year, an additional 200,000 develop the disease. Americans age 80 and older have the highest rates of blindness, and they are the fastest growing segment of our population. Considering the aging of our population, the number of Americans who suffer from blindness, low vision, or an age-related eye disease is expected to grow to 50 million by 2020.
As the prevalence of eye disease continues to rise, so will the cost. Vision loss, blindness, and other eye disease are expensive, in both direct and indirect ways. Vision loss can require medical care, assistance with daily activities, and even caregiving. It can increase our risk of falls and accidents, impair our ability to work, and make it difficult to participate in the activities we enjoy. As a result, it can diminish our quality of life and lead to depression.
In various studies, researchers have accounted for the direct costs and found ways to assign monetary values to some of the human costs. The numbers are considerable—and growing:
- A person who is visually impaired or blind accumulates an average of more than $1,400 in vision-related expenses each year. At that rate, the person racks up a $10,000 bill for vision alone in just eight years.
- The annual cost to the nation for adult vision problems in the U.S. is estimated to be around $51.4 billion.
- Visual impairment and blindness account for more than $8 billion in lost productivity every year.
Making progress in prevention and treatment
Investments in science over the last decade have had a tremendous impact on our understanding of the human eye and its intricacies. This understanding has resulted in progress in both prevention and treatment of eye diseases.
- Clinical trials have identified effective new drugs to treat the “wet” form of AMD. One of these drugs maintained vision in 95 percent of trial participants and actually improved the vision of more than a quarter of them. These drugs have great potential to reduce the economic cost to our nation of AMD—$570 million a year in direct medical costs.
- Another promising study found that prescription eye drops could delay or prevent half of glaucoma cases in African Americans. The potential glaucoma patient who manages to prevent the disease with those eye drops ultimately saves $2,511 per year they would have spent on end-stage treatment.
- Treatments that have been found to delay or prevent diabetic retinopathy save us $1.6 billion annually while the investment in research to establish safe and effective standards of care was only $70 million.
In most cases, investment in scientific research more than pays for itself as findings are translated into treatments that benefit patients with eye diseases. Advances like these make differences for individuals, and render significant savings considering their impact over the entire population. And the return on investment in terms of quality of life is immeasurable.
For more information about how eye disease affects the economy, visit Prevent Blindness America: Economic Impact of Vision Problems in the U.S. Estimated at $51.4 Billion
- Friedman et al. 2004, Prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration in the United States
- National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, Vision Impairment and Eye Disease Is a Major Public Health Problem
- Congdon et al. 2004, Causes and Prevalence of Visual Impairment Among Adults in the United States
- Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group 2004, Blindness
- Frick et al. 2007, Economic Impact of Visual Impairment and Blindness in the United States
- Prevent Blindness America 2007, The Economic Impact of Vision Problems
- Rein et al. 2006, The Economic Burden of Major Adult Visual Disorders in the United States
- Lee et al. 2006, A Multicenter, Retrospective Pilot Study of Resource Use and Costs Associated with Severity of Disease in Glaucoma
- National Institutes of Health, Diabetic Retinopathy Fact Sheet