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Many Older Americans Not Treated For Glaucoma

May 10, 2007

Adapted from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology

Almost one-third of older Americans diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) are not treated medically or surgically for the condition according to a study to s study presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The study is the first investigation of glaucoma therapy use in the U.S. to utilize longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of Medicare patients. The researchers examined trends in glaucoma medication use and surgeries among adults aged 65 and older by analyzing data collected from 1992 through 2002 as part of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS). A total of 3,020 MCBS participants were identified as having diagnosed POAG.

A major finding of this study is that, on average, 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with POAG did not use any glaucoma medication and did not undergo any type of glaucoma-related surgery in a given study year. Among those patients who did use glaucoma-related medications, the classes of prescription eye drops used changed over the study period, with a substantial increase in the use of prostaglandin analogues.

Lead researcher Joshua D. Stein, MD, MS, from Duke University in Durham, NC, said, “We've known that consistent use of effective medical therapies reduces patients' risk for blindness due to glaucoma yet we found that many patients are not benefiting from the availability of these increasingly effective therapies. An important lesson emerges from this research: We need to do a better job of educating patients and their physicians, as well as health policymakers and insurance-industry leaders, of the benefits of consistent glaucoma therapy.” He concludes, “If we do not learn this lesson, glaucoma will continue to be a leading cause of blindness in older populations.”

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