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Glaucoma research clears the way for sufferers

20 March, 2013

It's an eye disease that can affect anyone and it's responsible for taking the sight of millions of people worldwide every year.

Glaucoma causes gradual irreversible damage to the optic nerve and is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to QUT Professor Joanne Wood from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), who leads research focussed on maintaining the independence and well-being of older adults with glaucoma.

"Because glaucoma is gradual most people don't know they have it until it is picked up at an eye examination, by which time the person has most probably already lost some vision," Professor Wood who is the domain leader of the Vision Improvement Research Program at IHBI, said.

"Glaucoma often starts in the peripheral or side vision area and because of its gradual onset can go unnoticed and people carry on with their normal activities unaware they are losing visual capacity.

"We have a research team investigating how glaucoma contributes to falls in older sufferers and another looking at how glaucoma affects drivers.

"When our researchers followed 70 older adults with glaucoma for a year they found 40 per cent had at least one fall and 20 per cent several falls.

"An analysis of vision loss patterns showed that people who had vision loss in their lower peripheral vision had the strongest risk for falls."

Professor Wood said ongoing research on driving safety among older adults with glaucoma at QUT was aimed at providing guidelines for licensing of drivers with glaucoma and was also examining potential interventions to assist safe driving in people with glaucoma.

"Driving is a highly complex visual task and people with glaucoma often report problems with glare and night driving. It's also cited as one of the main reasons older drivers give up driving," she said.

Professor Wood said everyone should have their eyes examined at least every two years.

"Although glaucoma can't be reversed, its progress can be slowed or sometimes stopped with treatment."

QUT Optometry Clinic is part of QUT Health Clinics' state-of-the-art clinical education facilities open to the public. They include a specialised Vision Rehabilitation Centre that provides comprehensive service to visually impaired people including occupational therapy and social work.

It provides complete eye examinations including advanced technology for detecting eye diseases, and a dispensing service for patients providing spectacles, contact lenses, prescription sunglasses and other optical aids.

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