As large numbers of Canadian baby boomers slowly but surely approach middle age, many are experiencing an unfamiliar and unsettling feeling in the pit of their stomach. As they wake each morning and face the passing years, they're taking a good hard look at the reality ahead. Along with the rudeness of sagging skin, receding hairlines, droopy eyelids, and aching joints, many are experiencing something they didn't see coming: failing eyesight. Perhaps the boom is going bust.
In a recent health and lifestyle survey, the majority of respondents feared visual impairment more than any other physical impairment because of the perceived impact that it would have on their "quality of life." For a growing number of Canadians, it's a relevant consideration. Vision loss is highly correlated with aging—a fine detail that isn't wasted on baby boomers poised to enter high-risk categories.
Over the coming years, the shift in demographics is expected to create an unprecedented demand for high-quality eye care services, and improved technologies for the efficient assessment, early diagnosis, and effective treatment of age-related vision anomalies. The entire phenomenon has caught the eye of the University of Waterloo's School of Optometry. In conjunction with industry partners, the university is in the midst of expanding and evolving its vision care research programs in anticipation of the major clinical problems that will confront the eye care field in the next decade.
As part of its plan for the future, the School of Optometry is using infrastructure funding from the CFI to support vision-related health research at its Institute of Vision Sciences and Technology, a component of a program led by Dr. Jacob Sivak, a professor at the school. In addition to acquiring a wide range of equipment—that includes the latest in lasers, microscopes, focussing hardware, and spectrophotometers—the school's researchers will be able to focus their attention on six major themes over the next decade. The themes include ocular development and refractive correction, biomedical ocular research, vision and ophthalmic standards, contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, and optometric education and practice.
Research on ocular disease will concentrate on the three leading causes of blindness and low vision in North America: glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease.
The infrastructure support from the CFI is essential if the School of Optometry is to maintain its position at the forefront of this research field. It will also allow the school to enhance the university's capacity to attract and train top researchers from around North America, and to pursue unique collaborations with other universities. As well, there's the possibility of the commercialization of newly developed technologies with private-sector partners.