Survey finds eye-care apathy among patients

November 1, 2007

Results of a recent Harris Interactive telephone survey suggest a need for eye-care professionals to educate the public, especially baby boomers, about the need for annual eye exams and to build awareness about risk factors for eye disease.

Key Points

New York, NY-Sixty-two percent of baby boomers are not concerned that they will become visually impaired or have vision loss that cannot be corrected by glasses, surgery, or medication, according to a new Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of Lighthouse International. This indifference comes at a time when the aging baby boomer population (those aged 43 to 61 years) should especially be concerned.

Lighthouse International provides health-care services to those with vision loss.

"People are not taking steps to avoid age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases that rob them of their vision," said Tara Cortes, PhD, RN, Lighthouse International president and chief executive officer. "The second piece is that now there are 20 million people in the United States who have diabetes and are at high risk for diabetic retinopathy."

"There will be a big wake-up call as the baby boomers age and lose their vision," she said. "Our statistics show that one out of five people over the age of 65 self-report vision loss that is not correctable by normal lenses, surgery, or medicine."

Key findings

The data reflect a telephone survey that was conducted in the United States over 4 days in early August. More than 1,000 adults, including 384 baby boomers, were asked questions about eye health. Researchers weighted the results for age, race, region, and gender to align them with actual proportions of the general population.

Researchers asked six main questions in the survey. The results, reported next, reflect the entire survey population unless noted.

The first question asked participants whether they could see well enough to perform various tasks when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they could recognize a friend from across a room; 98% reported that they could read large print, such as a newspaper headline; 97% said they could identify money or pay bills; 97% said they could move around outside the home or in the neighborhood; and 93% reported being able to read ordinary newspaper print.

The second question presented three activities and asked whether participants had no difficulty, some difficulty, or were unable to perform the activity without assistance from someone else. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported no difficulty taking care of personal needs, including dressing, bathing, shaving, or applying makeup; 92% reported no difficulty managing daily household tasks-including cleaning, cooking and laundry-because of their vision; 91% said they had no difficulty getting to places outside their homes because of vision issues.

The third, fourth, and fifth questions were asked only of baby boomers.

In the third question, when asked how concerned they were that they would become visually impaired or have vision loss that could not be corrected by glasses, surgery or medicine, 37% reported concern.

The fourth question: What precautions do you take concerning the health of your eyes? Less than half of the respondents reported seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist annually. Caucasians were most likely to seek annual eye care, at 49%, versus 37.5% of black and Hispanic survey participants. Only 30% of baby boomers said they wear sunglasses with ultraviolet protection for eye health reasons, and only small percentages of respondents said they would take important steps such as smoking cessation, eating green leafy vegetables, and exercising for the sake of their vision.

"Very few people knew that smoking doubled their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration," Dr. Cortes said. "Those responses show us that people do not see this as a looming problem. People think far more about cancer or heart disease than eye disease."

The fifth question asked baby boomers whether they would seek low-vision services if their or their loved ones' vision loss could not be corrected by glasses, surgery, or medication. Eighty-two percent said they would. The problem, according to Dr. Cortes, is that people often do not know the services exist; even ophthalmologists and optometrists do not realize that the continuum of eye care goes beyond corrective lenses, medicine, and surgery.