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Eye Disease on the Horizon: Macular Degeneration in Elderly Projected to Increase Substantially

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Corporate Communications

Media Contact:  John M. Lazarou

April 19, 2004


The number of people in the U.S. with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 65, will increase from 1.75 million people to almost 3 million people by the year 2020, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and in the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, a national coalition of scientists studying the frequency of eye disease in the U.S.

“Treatments such as high dose vitamins and laser procedures can slow the rate of vision loss from AMD, but better therapies are urgently needed,” says David Friedman, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins and lead investigator of the study, which appears in the April issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology.

Age-related macular degeneration is a disorder of the retina, the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that can cause gradual vision loss, and is the leading cause of blindness among European-descended people older than 65 years.  According to Friedman, the estimates are needed in order for policy planners to determine the benefit of current and future therapies.

The researchers estimated prevalence rates for age-related macular degeneration by pooling findings from several large, population-based studies conducted over the past 20 years in the U.S., Australia and Europe.  For the projected estimate for the year 2020, the researchers applied the prevalence rates to 2000 U.S. Census data and to the projected U.S. population figures for that year.

The researchers found that currently there are approximately 1.75 million people 40 years or older living with age-related macular degeneration in the U.S. (or 1.47 percent of that population).  According to Friedman, more that 15 percent of white females 80 years or older have advanced disease in that age range.  Also, more than 7 million people were found to have a substantial risk of developing the disease, due to the presence of deposits on the retina, called drusen, that are partially responsible for vision loss associated with the disease.  They also found that age-related macular degeneration is far more prevalent in white people than it is in black people.

“A determined effort to identify effective prevention strategies is needed to avoid a large increase in the number of people with this disease,” says Friedman.


On the Web:

Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

National Eye Institute

The Archives of Ophthalmology