What is the link between vision and ageing?
In Australia, after the age of 40 the likelihood of developing blindness or vision impairments increases significantly with each decade of age.
By the time people reach the age of 80 nearly 29 per cent of Australians will have a vision impairment. Four per cent of these people are blind and the rest have lost enough vision for it to affect their everyday life.1
What are the main causes of blindness and vision loss in Australians over the age of 40?
The major eye diseases that cause blindness and vision impairment in Australia are macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy.
Together with under or uncorrected refractive error, they account for more than 90 per cent of vision impairment among older Australians.
More information about these conditions is available on the following page.
Is vision loss inevitable in people as they age?
It is more common for people to develop a vision impairment as they age, however some of these conditions, if caught early, can be treated.
In fact 75 per cent of the vision impairment associated with the main causes of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable.1
What are the symptoms of blinding eye disease?
Often there are no symptoms of the early stages of blinding eye disease. By the time people notice a change in their vision it can be too late and a significant amount of sight may already have been lost. Often this lost sight can not be restored.
The key is early detection. A simple, regular eye test and being aware of the health of your eyes can often prevent permanent vision loss.
How can vision be protected as people age?
People over 40 should have their eyes tested regularly, and see their eye health professional immediately if they notice any changes in their vision.
Have their eyes tested every two years if they:
- have diabetes
- have a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration
- are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
Protect their eyes:
- wear sunglasses and sun hats whenever they are in the sun
- quit smoking
- wear eye protection at home and at work.
How can vision loss affect people as they age?
Vision loss impacts on an individual's contribution to their community and also affects their emotional wellbeing.
People who are blind or vision impaired are much less likely to work and are less independent than those with normal vision.
They are more likely to have falls or other accidents, including traffic accidents, and can easily lose confidence in their ability to manage everyday life.
As a result people who are blind or vision impaired are at increased risk of depression. They enter nursing homes earlier than people their age who have normal vision and they die younger.2
What support is available for people who are blind or vision impaired?
Early intervention enables people to maintain their independence. Timely access to low vision services can have a dramatic impact on a person's quality of life, enabling people with vision loss to lead full and active lives.
To find a low vision service provider in your area visit our members page.
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Vision problems among older Australians. Bulletin. Issue 27, July 2005.
2 Access Economics Pty Ltd, Clear Insight – The Economic Impact and Cost of Vision Loss in Australia, August 2004.