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The vision generation: how different ages view eye health

Even though our sight is incredibly important to us, a new report shows that different generations have different attitudes when it comes to looking after the health of their eyes.

When it comes to getting older, deteriorating sight is most people’s number one worry. In a recent survey, 55 per cent of respondents placed it as their top concern. Yet a new report published by National Eye Health Week in partnership with Specsavers1 — called The Generation Eye Report — shows that different generations have vastly different attitudes to, and understanding of, their eyesight and eye health.

83% of people named vision as the sense that they would hate to lose the most.

The report identifies three key age groups: 18 – 24 year olds (the Unseen Generation); 45 – 54 year olds (New Presbyopes); and the over-65s (the Low-Vis Generation). It found that 85 per cent of 18 – 24 yearolds aren’t aware of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness; and 55 per cent weren’t aware of glaucoma.

More surprisingly, perhaps, only five per cent were aware that smoking damages eyesight. “Studies show that a person who smokes is up to four times more likely to develop AMD than a non-smoker,” says David Cartwright, Chair of National Eye Health Week.

More needs to be done — whatever the generation — to explain eye health issues and the benefits of regular eye-testing says Dr Nigel Best (pictured), Specsavers’ clinical spokesperson and resident optometrist at Specsavers in Darlington and Richmond.

Educating younger generations

But there is a challenge here. “This is the age at which people are least likely to consider the long-term ramifications of their actions,” he says. “If you say to people in that age group: ‘Get an eye-test now because it could stop you having preventable sight loss in 10 or 15 years’… well, they don’t view the world in those terms.”

Even conditions like diabetes can be picked up through a routine eye test.

In the middle-aged generation — the ‘New Presbyopes’ — 20 per cent of people complain that their eye health is so bad it restricts their daily lives. Twenty one per cent had trouble seeing characters when texting, and 25 per cent have to hold their arms out when trying to read. These are classic symptoms of presbyopia, a condition that affects everyone from their mid-forties — yet only 26 per cent of New Presbyopes had heard of it.

Again, says Best, the message needs to get though that eye tests are hugely important. “Also, it’s educating people in this age group that there is more to an eye test than just prescribing a pair of glasses. There are lots of other conditions — such as early diabetes — that can picked up during a routine eye test.”

Getting the correct prescription

In the over-65s category, the report discovered that millions are missing out on free eye tests; and almost a third (32%) didn’t know that wearing glasses or contact lenses with the wrong prescription could affect their eyesight. “Worryingly, the NHS’ General Ophthalmic Service (GOS) figures reveal that the number of sight tests conducted amongst the over-60s has steadily declined over the last three years,” says David Cartwright.

Poor vision is a major contributory factor of falls in this age group.

Falls (according to NHS figures) are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75. “With the average UK life expectancy now above 80 years old, and the bad habits and care levels of the Unseen Generation and New Presbyopes only compounding their potential future problems, we owe it to ourselves to protect our eyesight and the vision of our loved-ones,” says Cartwright.

1 The report is based on Eye Health 16 Consumer Study conducted by Atomik Research, in accordance with MRS guidelines and regulations, on a representative sample of 2002 UK respondents aged 18+ between 24 – 31 August 2016

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