RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The consequences of visual disorders among adults reach far beyond the quality of life impairment suffered by those afflicted, a new study from RTI International reports.

The economic costs are more than $35 billion a year, RTI researchers report in the study that was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings were published in the December issue of Archives of Opthalmology.

Of those economic costs, $13.7 billion are paid by the federal government.

“Currently, adult visual disorders impose a substantial economic burden on the United States,” said David Rein, the study’s lead author. “Because the incidence of visual disorders increases with age, the economic burden will likely rise in the future as the U.S. population ages.”

Costs include more than $16 billion in direct medical charges, $11 billion in nursing home care and government programs for the blind, and $8 billion in lost wages.

Data from more than 2.5 million privately insured patients between ages 40-64 and records of nearly 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries were analyzed for the study.

The findings stress the importance of screening and treatment, RTI said.

“Public health efforts to screen for and treat currently undiagnosed disease may increase direct medical care costs, but if effective, they also will improve visual outcomes and potentially reduce productivity losses and nursing home placements associated with visual impairment and blindness,” Rein said.

Citing data from the Archives of Opthalmology, RTI said more than 3.6 million Americans were afflicted with visual impairment or blindness in 2004. Millions more suffer with eye diseases or had poor vision that was corrected through glasses or contact lenses.