Society President David Ekin, ACSW, LCSW, said, “The Society is concerned because in 2011 more than 10 percent of people referred to us for services suffered from Diabetic Retinopathy, a typical complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness and other debilitative vision problems including glaucoma and cataracts.
“We are troubled that blindness and serious vision problems impact so many people in Missouri, and that vision problems and blindness are on the increase,” Ekin said. “Vision loss is taking social and economic tolls in St. Louis that include increased risk for health and personal safety, disability, loss of productivity and diminished quality of life. More people are seeking help from the Society.”
The Society’s data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that more than more than 67,000 adults age 20 and older in metro St. Louis are at risk for diabetes-related vision loss, and that more than 12,000 people over age 65 suffer vision loss due to Diabetic Retinopathy. In addition, the Society’s CDC data shows that the percentage of adults age 18 and older in Missouri who have been diagnosed with diabetes increased from just over four percent in 1994 to nearly ten percent of the state population in 2010.
According to studies funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetic retinopathy in the U.S. increased by 3.7 million new cases in the last decade. Approximately 7.7 million Americans are now affected by diabetic retinopathy, and this rate is projected to reach 11 million by 2030. People with diabetes are also at greater risk for cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye lens, and glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve. Diabetic retinopathy is by far the most common sight-threatening condition among people with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged 20 to 74 years, NEI reports.
“Diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms in its early stages,” Ekin said. The disease begins to damage small blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensing layer of tissue in the back of the eye, causing them to leak fluid and blood. As the disease progresses, blood vessels become blocked and rupture or new vessels grow on the retina, leading to permanent and sometimes profound vision loss.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments to help prevent vision loss from diabetic eye disease, but early detection and timely treatment are critically important, Ekin noted. “The St Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the National Eye Institute encourage people with diabetes to take steps to prevent complications of the disease.”
In addition to controlling blood glucose and blood pressure through healthy eating, adequate exercise and medication, people with diabetes should have annual dilated eye exams to identify early signs of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetic eye disease. Ninety percent of diabetes-related blindness is preventable through early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care, according to NEI, a unit of the National Institutes of Health.
Founded in 1911, the St. Louis Society for the Blind & Visually Impaired enhances independence, empowers individuals and enriches the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired including approximately 1,500 children, adults, and their families every year. Its caring, qualified staff provides specialized vision rehabilitation, adaptive education, assistive technology and support services. In addition, the Society serves a growing number of older adults who are visually impaired, blind or deaf-blind due to age-related eye conditions by providing home-based services, specialized services, community activities and social programs. It also provides support to school-age students at school districts in Illinois and Missouri, and at its offices at 8770 Manchester Road.
The Society’s Leslie and Robert Drews Low Vision Clinic provides full functional vision assessments to determine if there are prescriptive or non-prescriptive vision aids that may help a person best utilize the remaining sight they have. This exam compliments the patient’s primary eye doctor's medical exam by looking at how the visual functioning may be enhanced. If an exam by the Society's doctor is not indicated or desired, Low Vision Therapists can assist a person with identifying and training in the use of non-prescriptive aids such as magnifiers, lighting and lamps, computers and other devices which enlarge regular print onto larger screens.
Contact the Society at 314 968 9000 or visit the website http://www.slsbvi.org. Media relations contact: Jeff Dunlap at 314.993.6925.