Hugh Parry is the president and chief executive officer of Prevent Blindness America, the oldest voluntary health agency nationally engaged in the prevention of blindness through comprehensive programs of community service, public and professional education and research. Parry joined Prevent Blindness America in April 2002, after 20 years in not-for-profit management.
Tackling a crossword puzzle or reading a good book. Watching the ball game on TV or driving to pick up the kids. Taking a trip down memory lane while looking at old photos. Seeing your new grandbaby for the first time.
These are just a few of life’s simple pleasures. Yet, for some, these are almost impossible due to vision loss or blindness.
When I meet new people, I often ask them if they think they could go blind one day. Invariably, the answer is always “no.” Of course, we all believe it can’t happen to us! We’re too young, healthy, active. Then I ask a follow-up question: Do any of your relatives have diabetes?
Then the answer hits home.
More than 25 million Americans have diabetes. And, those who have a relative with the disease are at a higher risk for developing the disease. In addition to being the leading cause of kidney failure and non-traumatic lower limb amputations, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in those ages 20 and over.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes are also twice as likely to develop other eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma. Yet, many aren’t aware of the damage that diabetes can have on the eyes.
As of today, there is no cure for diabetic eye disease or diabetes, for that matter. So, what can we do to help save our vision and our overall health from diabetes?
Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. For those who have already been diagnosed, it can also help prevent vision loss.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and quitting smoking can significantly increase your chance of protecting your vision.
But another important factor in maintaining healthy vision is regular eye care. For those who have diabetes or pre-diabetes, visiting your eye doctor once a year is essential. Your eye doctor can help monitor your vision through a dilated eye exam and provide recommendations and treatment plans to help protect your eyes. Early detection and treatment are crucial to the success of preventing vision loss from all forms of eye disease.
As you may know, November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. We hope that this will encourage everyone to take a moment to find out more about this disease that has already reached epidemic proportions, with no end in sight.
As part of this observance, Prevent Blindness America is launching our Live Right, Save Sight! program which offers those who have diabetes, or are at risk for developing the disease, steps they can take today to save vision in the future. Visit our website to take an online risk factor quiz as well as learn about how diabetes damages the eye, treatment options and other facts.
Our vision is something that we tend to take for granted until we start to lose it. Then all of the wonderful things that life has to offer start to become even more precious. I hope you won’t let that happen to you and that you’ll take the time today to think about how your life could change without being able to see clearly. And, that you will decide to take the necessary steps to make your health and your vision a priority today for a brighter future.