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Alarming Vision Disease Trends Shape Marketing Message for Older Adults

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

prevent blindness alarming vision diseaseThis is definitely not good news for the 40-plus crowd. As the population ages, the number of Americans with eye disease has increased dramatically. (USA Today says it’s “skyrocketing.”)

By whatever label, these are alarming trends, and a signal to ophthalmologists, optometrists, healthcare providers and vision care marketing professionals to communicate a stronger message for older adults.

First, by the numbers...

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the just-released report from (jointly) Prevent Blindness America, the National Eye Institute and Johns Hopkins University tells us:

  •  89 = percent increase in the number of people with diabetic retinopathy
  • 8 million = Americans over 40 diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy
  •  25 = percent increase in age-related macular degeneration
  • 2 million+ = individuals over the age of 50 with macular degeneration
  •  22 = percent increase in open-angle glaucoma
  • 2.7 million = people over 40 with glaucoma
  •  19 = percent increase in cataracts in people 40 and older
  • 24.4 million = people 40 and older with cataracts

"The number we are most alarmed about is the increase in diabetic retinopathy, which is largely due to the diabetes epidemic," said Jeff Todd, chief operating officer of Prevent Blindness America, reported USA Today.

Although the sharp up-trend in numbers is disturbing, it seems that healthcare marketing professionals are facing challenges in simply communicating—and motivating—the general public, particularly individuals who are over 40 years old.

First, these vision diseases are treatable…but: “Many patients [aren’t] taking advantage of available care,” according to Julia A. Haller, MD, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Philadelphia’s Wills Eye Institute, “due to, among other factors, a lack of education.” Dr. Haller continues in the Philly.Com report: “There are people in this country, in this city, with arguably the densest concentration of health care in the world going blind from preventable disease, and it's a shame."

For medical practice marketing professionals and vision care communicators, strong messages about regular eye exams are a first step to reaching this audience that may not know they have an asymptomatic problem. But, "The reasons why people don't come in [for eye exams] are multiple," said Paul P. Lee, director of the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center. Some of the reasons include lack of insurance or financial means, lack of trust, or simply needing help with transportation.

The Prevent Blindness report was released as part of a national summit in Washington, DC. Searchable data is available on this page.

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