Congressional Briefing Raises Awareness about Diabetes and Its Impact on Vision Loss
On September 9, 2008 representatives from Lighthouse International, the American Diabetes Association, Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, Prevent Blindness America, and the American Foundation for the Blind came together to educate congressional and staff members on the epidemic of diabetes and it's impact on vision loss. According to the CDC, there are nearly 24 million Americans living with diabetes, including 5.7 million who are undiagnosed. Additionally, it is estimated that 57 million Americans have "pre-diabetes", or blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
Presenters from the congressional briefing were, from left to right: Dr. Bruce Rosenthal, Dr. Tara Cortes, Dr. Neil M. Bressler, and Nicole Pedone
In her introductory comments, Dr. Tara Cortes, President and CEO of Lighthouse International, said, "While diabetes has come a long way in garnering mainstream attention for its serious complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and amputation, blindness is frequently overlooked - despite the fact that patients usually develop diabetic retinopathy within 15 years of diagnosis."
Dr. Tara Cortes introducing the congressional briefing on "Diabetes and Vision Loss: A Crisis," September 9, 2008.
Diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among people between the ages of 20 and 74, factored heavily into the discussion throughout the presentations, as did other vision related diabetic complications.
Dr. Neil M. Bressler, Chief of the Retina Division at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, discussed current research practices and their implications on reducing the magnitude of blindness from diabetes. Currently, between 40 and 45 percent of the 18 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes have vision problems. Ophthalmologists traditionally use lasers to reduce the swelling in areas of the macula - which is where the most common diabetic vision problems occur. However, research has also found that, while not as effective as laser treatments, injections of a specific corticosteroid have also provided some benefits. "These findings raise the possibility that combining laser with corticosteroids might produce an even greater benefit," said Dr. Bressler.
Left to Right: Dr. Tara Cortes, Dr. Neil M. Bressler, and Dr. Cynthia Stuen
Bruce P. Rosenthal, OD, FAAO, the Chief of the Low Vision Clinical Practice at Lighthouse International, spoke about the prevention of diabetes-related vision loss, and stressed that the management of the disease needs to be approached as a team. "Low vision intervention and the prescription of low vision optical and electronic devices from optometrists and ophthalmologists should commence at the onset of the treatment for diabetic retinopathy," stated Dr. Rosenthal. "Additional rehabilitation team members will be involved with other critical issues such as depression, self-sufficiency, mobility, and even job-save intervention," he added. The vision loss that accompanies diabetes often leaves patients feeling helpless. Dr. Rosenthal emphasized the need to assist these individuals in maintaining their independence, quality of life, and dignity.
Rounding out the presentations was Nicole Pedone, a volunteer for the American Diabetes Association. Ms. Pedone has had experience with exactly those feelings to which Dr. Rosenthal referred, as she herself lost her vision to diabetes. After graduating from college, Ms. Pedone lost her sight, and she spoke to those in attendance about her experiences living with diabetes and vision loss, and how she manages her daily routine with the aid of technology.
Lighthouse International would like to thank all of those involved in the congressional briefing, and hopes that this is but another step in increasing awareness, funding, and legislation geared towards the prevention of diabetes-related vision loss.
Photos courtesy of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research