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Queens Chronicle

PRIME TIMES: 60 Plus Eyesight loss a public health concern

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 2:05 pm, Thu Aug 1, 2019.

As people grow older, their eyesight can weaken. But left untreated or complicated by disease and other factors, age-related weakening eyesight can lead to vision loss.

And while New York City and the federal government often are not on the same page these days, officials of both entities agree that it is a serious public health matter.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its Vision Health Initiative [cdc.gov/visionhealth/basic_information/vision_loss.htm], estimates that 3.4 million Americans over age 40 are blind or visually impaired. Up to 21 million suffer from “vision problems” and about 80 million have potentially blinding eye diseases.

“The major causes of vision loss are cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma,” according to the CDC. The numbers are expected to increase as the nation’s elderly population continues to grow.

But CDC officials also say early detection and treatment can prevent much vision loss in, and that it is feasible to address vision loss at the community or public health level.

The CDC says seniors are hit the hardest, and those in the African-American community are particularly vulnerable.

“Efficacious and cost-effective strategies to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy are available, but among people with diabetes, screening is received only by about two-thirds of persons for whom the exam is recommended and varies significantly across health care settings,” according to the agency.

“Cataract removal surgery can restore vision, and this surgery is cost effective; however, among African Americans, unoperated senile cataracts remain a major cause of blindness,” the report states.

Glaucoma, the VHI said, can be controlled, and vision loss stopped by early detection and treatment.

“Nevertheless, half the people with glaucoma are not diagnosed, and glaucoma is still the number one blinding disease among African Americans,” according to the VHI.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) is the lone Queens representative on the City Council’s Committee on Health.

Holden too believes that vision loss among seniors is a public health issue, and that the city should always be examining ways to help its older population. But he also believes the federal government can do more than it does at the moment, particularly on some of the most elementary assistance.

“Right now, Medicare doesn’t cover most eyeglasses,” Holden said. “Private insurance does but not Medicaid. Why not?”

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) also believes the city can and should continue to do its part whenever possible.

“As a city we should focus on the complete physical, mental and social well-being of all New Yorkers,” Adams said in an email. “Vision loss and impairment is a major public health problem that is often overlooked. As one with family members impacted by vision loss, I am concerned that prevention awareness is not sufficient across all economic strata. In New York City, comprehensive approaches to address vision loss and the promotion of eye health and wellness are particularly needed in high risk communities.”

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