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Over two-thirds of older Aussies unfamiliar with cataract symptoms

Australian Society of Ophthalmologists PHI regulator

Fear and a lack of knowledge about symptoms is leading a large proportion of the 1 million Australians with cataracts to delay treatment or even potentially remain undiagnosed, according to a new YouGov survey.

The research – commissioned by the online patient resource Cataracts Xplained – found almost two thirds (61%) of Australians aged 55 and over are unfamiliar or only a little familiar with the symptoms of cataracts. Also, only 49% knew that many people with cataracts will be unaware as their body compensates to changes in their vision.

Of the 66% of Australians aged over 55 who have experienced a condition with their eyes requiring treatment, 28% have delayed seeking treatment. The reasons for delay included worry about surgery (10%), fear of losing their sight (9%), and fear about what the specialist might say (6%).

Dr Con Moshegov

Cataracts Xplained, which released the findings on 30 November, is a free patient resource sponsored by Alcon, and has been developed with several healthcare professionals, including ophthalmologists Associate Professor Chandra Bala, Dr Con Moshegov, Dr Isabel McLean, and optometrist Dr Mark Koszek.

Overall, 33%, the equivalent of 1.3 million Australians, aged 65 years and older have been diagnosed with a medical condition, affecting their vision and 26%, the equivalent of more than 1 million people, has been diagnosed with cataracts.

With many of those unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms, Moshegov said this was putting Australians at risk of going undiagnosed with cataracts or other vision conditions.

“It is worrying to see older Australians are so unfamiliar with the symptoms of cataracts and what to look out for in their vision,” he said.

“It is critical all Australians have regular visits to their eyecare professional to ensure any conditions are picked up and treated early so as not to have a negative impact on the patient’s life.”

Impact of cataracts on older Australians

The survey also found more than half (52%) of the people aged 55 years and older who have been diagnosed with cataracts say it negatively impacted their life.

Most commonly this included feeling anxious thinking about needing to have surgery (27%), reducing or stopping driving altogether (16%) and feeling less confident (15%). Other negative impacts included giving up trying to read (10%), feeling depressed (7%) and feeling anxious that they would not be able to recognise people/see faces (7%).

Women (61%) are more likely than men (43%) to say being diagnosed with cataracts negatively impacted their life in some way and, in particular, that they are more likely to feel anxious thinking about needing to have surgery (38% compared to 17%) and reducing/stopping driving altogether (23% compared to 9%).

Of those who have delayed seeking treatment for an eye condition in the past, knowing success from treatment is high (35%), that treatment doesn’t involve surgery (22%) and that treatment is straightforward (18%) are most likely to encourage them to seek treatment for cataracts or another eye condition.

“A lot of Australians are fearful of what treatment on their eyes might mean but the reality is that cataracts can be dealt with quickly and easily with great success rates,” Moshegov said.

“In fact, once undergoing cataracts surgery, you’re less likely to need to wear glasses than you did previously with some patients no longer needing glasses at all.”

Among Australians 55 years and older who have to wear glasses and/or contact lenses (50%), it seems the negatives (62%) outweigh the positives (26%).

In particular, glasses wearers find them a hassle to take on and off (23%), don’t like wearing them (21%) find it hard to find glasses that are comfortable (18%) or that they like (17%), worry about losing them (14%) or actually do lose them (12%) or just never seem to have them when they need them (6%), and 7% feel younger when they don’t wear them.

Understanding cataracts

MedicineX – the organisation behind Cataracts Xplained that aims to develop jargon-free, visual and interactive patient resources – is encouraging people with cataracts to visit its website.

The webpage follows Ms Elaine Charlton’s real-life story through the annoying years of needing glasses, to getting a cataracts diagnosis, what people can do about it and how to find the right solution for them.

“I’m very big on asking questions if I’m not sure about something and Cataracts Xplained is a great resource to read to ensure you feel prepared and have all the questions you need ahead of any appointments,” Charlton explained.

“If you have an ophthalmologist that’s a bit hesitant answering all the questions then it’s not the right person so try somebody else. It’s your body and it’s your health and you need to know what’s going on. And it’s not anything to be afraid of.”

Ms Cathryn Corcoran, CEO at Medicine X, said story-telling is the best way for patients to understand their disease journey.

“Around 80% of medical information provided by doctors is forgotten straight away. The Xplained resources are designed to fill these gaps in a creative and powerful way,” she said.

More reading

Reducing cataract surgery wait to three months would prevent thousands of falls, Aussie research finds

Commission weighs into debate over cataract standard

Survey provides insight into Australian cataract surgery landscape

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