Geriatric vision loss due to cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma

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The major causes of impaired vision in the elderly population of the United States are cataracts, macular degeneration, and open-angle glaucoma. Cataracts and macular degeneration usually reduce central vision, especially reading and near activities, whereas chronic glaucoma characteristically attacks peripheral vision in a silent way, impacting balance, walking, and driving. Untreated, these visual problems lead to issues with regard to taking medications, keeping track of finances and personal information, walking, watching television, and attending the theater, and often create social isolation. Thus, visually impaired individuals enter nursing homes 3 years earlier, have twice the risk of falling, and have 4x the risk of hip fracture. Consequently, many elderly with low vision exercise greater demands on community services. With the prospect of little improvement and sustained visual loss, in the face of poor tolerance of low-vision services and not accepting magnification as the only way to read, clinical depression is common. In many instances, however, early and accurate diagnosis can result in timely treatment and can preserve quality of life. This review will look at current diagnostic and therapeutic considerations. Currently, about 20.5 million people in the United States have cataracts. The number will reach 30 million by 2020. About 1.75 million Americans currently have some form of macular degeneration, and the number is estimated to increase to 2.95 million in 2020. Approximately 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, and by 2020 that number is estimated to be close to 3.4 million people. It is projectedthat by 2030 there will be 72.1 million seniors. With some overlap of the above 3 groups conservatively estimated (if you add the 2030 cataract group to the macular degeneration and glaucoma groups), then about 1 in 2 senior individuals by 2030 may have some significant ocular disease, which could account for about 50% of the healthcare budget for the elderly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-294
Number of pages19
JournalMount Sinai Journal of Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Cataracts
  • Geriatric
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Vision impairment


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