Diabetes Is Now the Leading Cause of Vision Loss 


Consider these approaches for more effective patient education 

A CDC study showing an increasing trend of vision impairment among adults with diabetes is setting off alarm bells. Diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in people ages 18 to 64, according to the American Diabetes Association. By 2030, it’s estimated that there will be a 48% increase in the number of people with diabetic retinopathy.

Because there are often no obvious symptoms to several diabetes-related eye conditions, patients may not be aware of these threats to their sight. There can also be shame or stigma involved with managing diabetes, making it tricky to strike the right note in your patient outreach and education. Here are some strategies and tools that can help. 


Start with patient education

Patients need to first understand that diabetes can affect the eyes in many ways. And even if they do hear terms like “diabetic retinopathy” and “open-angle glaucoma,” they may not understand what those words mean. Take the time to define and explain eye conditions, using illustrated videos like Rendia’s Diabetic Retinopathy Overview, or the progression of vision loss over time with open-angle glaucoma, whenever possible to help patients picture different parts of the eye’s anatomy and reflect on their own vision goals. 

How do you convey a sense of urgency when a condition has no early symptoms? Vision simulations can help.

Because conditions like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma typically have no symptoms in the early stages, it can be challenging to communicate a sense of urgency to patients to get them to pursue treatment. This is where vision simulations can be helpful. For example, a tool like Exam Mode can show them what deteriorating vision might look like. A patient might not associate blurriness in the center of their vision with diabetic retinopathy. 

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Room for improvement

Of course, in order to educate patients about diabetic retinopathy, you first need to reach those at risk. Over the 20-year period covered in the CDC study, only half of adults with diabetes said they saw an eye doctor within the past year; that rate held steady from 1999 to 2018.

Experts say scare tactics don’t work with diabetic patients, and may even backfire.

While you may be tempted to do whatever it takes to convey the risks of potential blindness to patients, experts warn that scare tactics don’t work and may even backfire. Many people with diabetes feel like no matter what they do, it will never be good enough, said Susan Guzman, co-founder of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute. “As a result, many people with high fear and distress feel hopeless about developing complications and disengage from diabetes management. They might think, ‘What’s the point? It’s too late for me.’” Scare tactics can also make people shut down, rather than opening up conversations or building trusting relationships. 

A better approach is to communicate that early prevention makes a huge difference. Tell patients that the good news is that regular comprehensive eye exams could prevent 95% of vision loss caused by diabetes.

Share this video on your website, social media pages or in your waiting room:

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Awareness and early intervention are the best prevention. But patients will only take action if they understand their condition and what’s at stake. For more on educating a wide range of patients, download our Health Literacy eBook.


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