By Dr. Barry Thienes ---
May is National Vision Health Month, which provides a good opportunity to focus (pardon the pun!) on eye health. And while we should take this opportunity to celebrate good eye health, it’s important to also talk about eye disease.
The reality is that many eye diseases have no symptoms and a verdict of 20/20 vision doesn’t necessarily mean all is well. That’s why a comprehensive eye exam is so critical, especially for seniors; it provides an opportunity to detect whether cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy – the top four causes of vision loss in seniors – are present. A comprehensive eye exam can also detect other serious health conditions, including brain tumours, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, as well as thyroid or liver disease.
Age is a contributing factor in many types of disease, including eye disease. By 2024, seniors will account for 20 per cent of our population, meaning more Canadians will be at greater risk of the “top four” eye diseases and a significantly reduced quality of life. Providing eye health care for seniors, therefore, is critical to ensuring their overall good health and preventing further complications down the line.
Given our aging population, what must be done to prioritize eye health and meet this increased need for vision care in Canada?
Over the years, eye health care professionals, their respective provincial and national associations, and various vision charities across Canada have worked hard to raise awareness about eye health and vision care, especially among vulnerable populations like seniors.
As recently as 2015, Canada’s leaders in vision health collaborated on the Canadian Patient Charter for Vision Care, a commitment to provide optimal patient-centered care across all stages of the vision loss journey. The next step in realizing the objectives of the charter is the creation of a pan-Canadian framework for action to promote effective population eye health and vision care. Here, the federal government has a unique opportunity to embrace a leadership role in eye and vision health, thereby ensuring the highest standards of vision care across the country.
Canada’s optometrists applaud the federal government’s expressed desire for a health care system that is patient-centred. We share that desire but would contend that it’s impossible to achieve without integrating eye health in care delivery. It’s time for good public policy that will make better vision a reality for seniors and indeed, all Canadians.