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[EYE OF THE STORM] Geographic atrophy affects millions, endangers vision

Results of a global survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Apellis Pharmaceuticals, released on April 21, found that living with geographic atrophy (GA) can cause a substantial emotional burden and impact on independence. GA is a leading cause of blindness among older adults that affects more than 5 million people worldwide, including one million in the US.

The Geographic Atrophy Insights Survey (GAINS) was conducted among 203 adults (mean age, 70) with GA across nine countries. The survey reveals that nearly seven in 10 GA patients (68%) believe the impact on their independence and quality of life due to their visual decline is worse than they expected. More than two in three patients (70%) rely on a caregiver for support, and a majority feel the disease negatively affects aspects of everyday life like the ability to read (96%), drive (95%), and travel (88%). Additionally, people living with GA are experiencing emotional hardships, feeling anxious (46%), powerless (39%), and frustrated (33%). Approximately one in three (35%) have recently withdrawn from their social lives because of their disease.

Nancy Holekamp, MD, director of retina services at the Pepose Vision Institute, St. Louis, Missouri, provided tips for ICAA's active-aging industry readers working with older adults. The key: Residents and members should have a yearly comprehensive eye exam. Tell them, she said, “to be sure to mention any family history of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to (their) eye doctor, as this condition has a very strong genetic component.  If indicated, he or she can then refer you to a retina specialist.”

"Quality of life is slipping away much faster than anticipated for an overwhelming number of people with GA, so it is important for patients to know they are not alone. There is a strong community of GA patients around the world who are navigating these same emotional hardships,” Stacy Pagos Haller, president and chief executive officer of the BrightFocus Foundation, said in a statement. “Our hope is that these results spark a public dialogue about the heavy toll of GA on patients’ wellbeing and encourage people to actively advocate for their eye health."

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