The numbers of people in Germany who are blind or visually impaired is going down. Robert P. Finger and his co-authors present their findings in the current edition of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012; 109[27/28]: 484-9).
The aging of the population would lead one to expect an increase in the numbers of blind and visually impaired—for in most cases the main reason for loss of vision is an age-related disease. Rates of macular degeneration, for example, and diabetes-related eye disease both go up with age. At the same time, however, the numbers of cases in which glaucoma or optic nerve atrophy results in blindness are going down. Retinal detachment, too, is occurring less frequently.
Using data from the archive of the blind registry of the Rhineland Regional Council (Landschaftsverband Rheinland), the researchers were able to calculate the prevalence of blindness (standardized for sex and age) from 1978 to 2006, and matched this with the Severe Disability Statistics on blindness and visual impairment. The results allowed them to formulate prevalence trends for the past 30 years.
The total number of registered blind in the Rhineland increased from 10 665 in 1978 to 15 766 in 1997 and then remained stable until 2006, when it was 15 725. The prevalence of blindness in the region of study also rose from 1978 to 1997 and then remained stable until 2006, as reflected in the dataset for blindness and visual impairment. After standardization for Germany, the prevalence can be seen to have been falling slightly since 1997.