Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss

That’s approximately one person in thirty.

Who has sight loss? 
Sight loss affects people of all ages, but as we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss.

  • One in five people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss.
  • One in two people aged 90 and over are living with sight loss.
  • Nearly two-thirds of people living with sight loss are women.
  • People from black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of some of the leading causes of sight loss.
  • Adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the general population.

What are the main causes of blindness in adults?

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is by far the leading cause of blindness in adults.

Other significant causes of sight loss are glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Future projections

The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically in the future.

As we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss, and the UK population is ageing. In addition, there is a growing incidence in key underlying causes of sight loss, such as obesity and diabetes.

This means that, without action, the numbers of people with sight problems in the UK are likely to increase dramatically over the next 25 years. 

It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss will rise to over 2,250,000. By 2050, the numbers of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million.

Prevention

Many older people are needlessly living with sight loss.

Almost two thirds of sight loss in older people is caused by refractive error and cataract. 

Both conditions can be diagnosed by a simple eye test. In most cases the person’s sight could be improved by prescribing correct glasses or cataract surgery. 

Over 50 per cent of sight loss can be avoided.

The cost of sight loss

What is the cost of sight loss to the UK economy each year?

In 2008 sight loss cost at least £6.5 billion, and this is likely to increase as the number of people with sight loss increases. This figure does not include the cost of sight loss in children. 

This cost is made up of:

  • £2.14 billion in direct health care costs, such as eye clinics, prescriptions and operations.
  • £4.34 billion in indirect costs, such as unpaid carer costs and reduced employment rates.

Registration

There are around 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK.

How does the registered population relate to the number of people with sight loss? The almost two million people living with sight loss is an estimate based on how commonly different eye conditions occur.

It takes into account factors such as age, gender and ethnicity, and builds up a picture of the numbers of people who are living with significant sight loss in the UK. This picture not only includes people who are registered, but also those who are waiting for treatment, those whose sight could be improved, those who have not registered for whatever reason and people whose sight loss is not at a level that allows them to register. The RNIB believe that almost two million is a much more accurate reflection of the numbers living with sight loss than using registration figures.

Realities of sight loss

  • Only eight per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people were offered formal counselling by the eye clinic, either at the time of diagnosis or later.
  • In the year after registration, less than a quarter (23 per cent) of people who lost their sight say they were offered mobility training to help them get around independently.
  • Almost half of blind and partially sighted people feel ‘moderately’ or ‘completely’ cut off from people and things around them.