Adults with visual impairments

Adults with visual impairments

There are 1.86 million people in the UK living with sight loss. By 2020, this number is predicted to increase by 22% and will double to almost four million people by the year 2050. The increase can be mainly attributed to an ageing population, over 80% of sight loss occurs in people over 60 years.

Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy have all increased in England and Wales since 1990-91, and the number of people with diabetic retinopathy among the over-65s has more than doubled.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

This commonly affects people over the age of 50 and is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 65. There are two main types: neovascular, or exudative AMD commonly known as ‘wet AMD’ and atrophic AMD commonly known as ‘dry AMD’. Early identification and treatment of wet AMD is vital, treatment can halt further development of scarring, but lost sight cannot be restored. Dry AMD can develop slowly and take a long time to process to its final stage. There is currently no treatment for dry AMD.


This is a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve is damaged due to changes in eye pressure. Damage to sight can usually be minimised by early diagnosis, in conjunction with careful, regular observation and treatment.


This is a common eye condition that can get worse over time. It is most common in older people, where the lens becomes misty or cloudy, resulting in poor vision. Surgery can improve quality of life and reduce the number of falls (RNIB 2011).

Diabetic retinopathy

This can lead to permanent sight loss, therefore screening and early diagnosis with appropriate intervention is essential. A department of health screening process has been introduced. The uptake of screening services for diabetic retinopathy can be explored on the NHS atlas of variation.

Key messages

  • The prevalence of sight loss increases with age and one in five people in the UK aged 75 are currently living with sight loss.
  • The four leading causes of sight loss are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
  • There is a wide range of impairment levels, and it is important that services are tailored to meet individual specific needs.
  • There are a number of people with sight loss below the registering levels, whose specific needs will need to be considered in service planning, including people identified as having low vision (sight loss that is not correctable by spectacles).
  • Groups at a greater risk of sight loss also tend to be the most vulnerable to exclusion from services, including:
    • older people
    • people in lower socio-economic groups
    • those in residential care
    • those with poor mobility
    • those with dementia
    • Black and minority ethnic groups (BME)
    • those with multiple sensory loss/impairment
    • those with learning difficulties
    • the prison population
    • asylum seekers
    • refugees
    • travelling populations