The survey commissioned by Vision 2020 Australia found only 22 per cent of Victorians polled were aware that serious eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma were part of their family history. In contrast, nearly twice that many people knew there was a family history of heart disease.
“The family history awareness figures revealed by the Newspoll are alarming. Research indicates that the number of people aware of family history should be much higher,” said eye health expert, Associate Professor Ecosse Lamoureux from the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
Vision 2020 Australia CEO Jennifer Gersbeck said the risk of getting serious eye conditions such as AMD or glaucoma increased dramatically if there was a family history.
“If you have a relative with macular degeneration, you have a fifty per cent chance of developing the disease yourself. While those with a parent with glaucoma are more than eight times more likely to develop the disease,” Ms Gersbeck said.
“And what’s worse, for those people who are over the age of 40, the risk of developing any eye condition is even higher,” she said.
“This World Sight Day (Thursday, October 13), we are encouraging Victorians to get talking about eye health with parents and grandparents as we know that having all the facts is a powerful tool when it comes to tackling vision loss and blindness.”
Ms Gersbeck said while there was a perception that heart attacks were more debilitating than low vision or blindness, many people did not stop to think about what life would be like if they could not see.
Victorian Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon David Davis MLC, has supported the call for Victorians to look after their sight.
“Nationally the direct cost of treating eye disease in 2009 was estimated at $2.98 billion. In Victoria, direct costs were estimated at $652 million, approximately a quarter of the national cost,” Mr Davis said.
“Improving eye sight can improve health outcomes. To be as healthy as we can be, we need a strong focus on prevention,” he said.
Ayse Bavage of Wantirna said despite being diagnosed with glaucoma in her right eye at the age of 28, she was not aware until recently of how extensively glaucoma featured in her family tree. This information is critical to managing her sight in her left eye and importantly, the sight of her two children.
“Knowing how quietly glaucoma can sneak up makes me even more aware of the importance of talking to my children about our family history and ensuring they, not only have regular eye tests, but mention the incidence of glaucoma to health professionals as they get older,” Ms Bavage said.
The good news is more than 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable or treatable.
Vision 2020 Australia Chairman, Dr Barry Jones has glaucoma and says the best defence against many of the main eye conditions is regular eye examinations.
“By detecting eye problems early it’s possible for many Victorians to save their sight, reduce the effects of eye disease, or maintain a level of vision which enables people to maintain their independence and carry out many of the daily tasks of life,” Mr Jones said.
For more information about family history and World Sight Day visit www.visioninitiative.org.au
For more information on glaucoma please contact Glaucoma Australia on www.glaucoma.org.au and for more information on macular degeneration please contact the Macular Degeneration Foundation on www.mdfoundation.com.au
Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, 414 784 359, firstname.lastname@example.org