Americans rate losing eyesight as having greatest impact on their lives

Photo: Elderly woman with glasses in a supermarket

Losing their independence by losing eyesight is what elderly Americans fear the most; © Anna Bizoń/

Many Americans across racial and ethnic groups describe losing eyesight as potentially having the greatest impact on their day-to-day life, more so than other conditions including: loss of limb, memory, hearing and speech (57 percent of African-Americans, 49 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 43 percent of Asians and 38 percent of Hispanics).

When asked which disease or ailment is the worst that could happen to them, blindness ranked first among African-Americans followed by AIDS/HIV. Hispanics and Asians ranked cancer first and blindness second, while Alzheimer's disease ranked first among non-Hispanic whites followed by blindness.

When asked about various possible consequences of vision loss, "quality of life" ranked as the top concern by non-Hispanic whites (73 percent) and Asians (68 percent) while African-Americans (66 percent) and Hispanics (63 percent) ranked "loss of independence" as number one. These and other findings from a new national public opinion poll commissioned by Research!America and the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) point to various perspectives among racial and ethnic groups regarding eye and vision health.

"Every segment of the population has major concerns about the impact of eye disorders on quality of life," said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. "Individuals realize the importance of good eye health in maintaining productive lives and fear its loss. But the reality is that advances in the prevention and treatment of eye disorders will not be possible without stronger investments in research."

National support of research that focuses on improving the prevention and treatment of eye and vision disorders is considered a priority among a strong majority of respondents (83 percent of African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites, 80 percent of Asians and 79 percent of Hispanics). When told that the federal government spends on average $2.10 per person each year on such research, half of African-Americans (51 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent) say this is not enough followed by non-Hispanic whites (47 percent) and Asians (35 percent). About half of all groups believe that non-governmental sectors – industry, patient groups and philanthropies – should also increase funding for eye and vision research (57 percent of Hispanics, 51 percent of African-Americans, 49 percent of Asians and 47 percent of non-Hispanic whites).

Knowledge about specific eye disorders was uneven among populations. More than half of all groups have heard of cataracts and glaucoma but fewer were aware of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic eye disease. Hispanics (35 percent) and Asians (31 percent) are more likely to say they have not heard of these conditions compared to 22 percent of non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans.

As for causes of eye disorders, a majority of all respondents (80 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 77 percent of Hispanics, 76 percent of Asians and 70 percent of African-Americans) believe that excessive sunlight or ultraviolet radiation is a risk factor for eye disease along with ethnic heritage (64 percent of Asians, 60 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 59 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of African-Americans). Chronic exposure of eyes to sunlight can cause cataracts and macular degeneration as well as eye irritation. Minority groups are often at a higher risk for vision impairment and blindness due to higher rates of certain eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy.

More than half of Asians (57 percent), Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites (52 percent) and a plurality of African-Americans (42 percent) agree that obesity is also associated with greater risk for eye disease, and 62 percent of Hispanics, 60 percent of Asians, 54 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 48 percent of African-Americans agree smoking is a risk factor. Research has shown the risks of AMD, diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma increase with obesity-related systemic diseases such as diabetes or a high body mass index (BMI), abdominal circumference or waist-hip ratio. Smoking also increases the risk of AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and chronic dry eye.; Source: Research!America

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