Is it hard for you to read this blog on your smartphone? Do you have trouble reading a magazine, menu or the information on a prescription bottle? Does holding text away from your body at arm's length actually help you focus?
If you answered "yes" to those questions, you might have presbyopia, the progressively diminishing ability of the eye to focus on up-close items, which for many becomes noticeable around the age of 40. The word originated with the Greek word "presbus" for old man combined with "ōps" for eye. Yes, I quite prefer the term presbyopia to "old man eyes."
Don't worry: You're not alone. Presbyopia is actually a widespread problem -- and it affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. In 2011, there were 1.272 billion cases of presbyopia reported around the globe. Of those, one-third were among working-age people 40-49 and another 41 percent were ages 50-64.
Vision impairment, such as presbyopia, can compromise a person's quality of life because it reduces the capacity for everyday activities: reading, working, driving, etc. A major concern with presbyopia is that the people most affected by it -- people over 40 -- are likely to be in their prime working years. That can and does have a negative impact on global productivity.
A study by Kevin D. Frick, Ph.D., and others, highlighted on the Vision Impact Institute website, estimates a global productivity loss of more than $11 billion due to presbyopia for the 244 million cases worldwide among people younger than 50. Take into account all the cases of those under 65 and assumed to be productive, and the productivity loss increases to more than $25 billion.
The good news is that almost all presbyopia cases can be easily fixed with corrective lenses. The study points out that if those cases achieved the presbyopia correction level that Europe enjoys today -- 96 percent -- the global productivity loss deflates to $1.390 billion, a manageable 0.002 percent of the world's economy.
The bottom line is that presbyopia has a significant negative burden on global productivity, and correction would provide an opposite positive boost, especially in lower-income countries. For example, Africa has only a 6 percent correction rate for presbyopia. Increasing that could tangibly boost the economies of African nations and the well-being of their citizens.
A fundamental way to improve vision health around the world, especially in developing countries, is access to eye care. Research has shown that recommended eye care that targets eye diseases and refractive errors, such as presbyopia, can immediately and cost effectively remedy half of reported vision problems.
The U.S. is not exempt from this issue, as the problem persists here in our affluent country as well. Blurry vision is a bigger problem than just not seeing the TV. Older Americans with moderate or extreme vision loss are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease or stroke than those without vision loss, according to a report on aging vision from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion posted on the Vision Impact Institute website. The report, which gathered data from 19 states, also found that those with vision loss are more likely to report fair or poor health -- instead of very good or excellent health -- than their neighbors with better sight.
So the best step any of us can take to ensure good eye health is to make sure we have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. And if your eye doctor prescribes glasses (or contact lenses), don't delay getting them. Through simple and regular steps such as an annual eye exam we can be more productive and improve our quality of life.