As in other developed countries, the most prevalent causes of blindness and vision loss in Australia are those related to ageing. Eye health in Australia, the background paper to the National framework for action to promote eye health and prevent avoidable blindness and vision loss (the National eye health framework), reported that age-related macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, uncorrected or under-corrected refractive error, eye trauma and trachoma are the most prevalent causes of blindness and vision loss in Australia.
In a recent analysis of pooled eye health data from population-based clinical studies, conducted both in Australia and internationally, it was estimated that 9.4% of Australians aged 55 or older are visually impaired and about 1.2% are blind. The combined impact of an ageing Australian population and the high age correlation of causes of vision loss indicates that the prevalence of visual impairment is set to increase over time in a policy-neutral environment.
Self-reported data on the prevalence of loss of sight is available through the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey 2004–05. The survey indicates that 52% of the Australian population report eyesight problems, including long and short sightedness, as a long-term medical condition.
Certain groups within the Australian population are at greater risk of developing eye disease. These groups include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, older people, people with a family history of eye disease, people with diabetes and marginalised to disadvantaged people.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing eye disease. The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study found that 15.3% of people with known diabetes and newly diagnosed diabetes had developed retinopathy.
Eye disease and vision loss have considerable financial and social costs to the Australian community. Visual impairment can shorten life, increase the risk of other conditions, restrict social participation and independence, and impair physical and mental health. In addition, people with visual impairment have a higher use of social services and higher admission rate to nursing homes.