An eye on a future treatment

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

It will come as no surprise that I spend a large chunk of my day skimming through news, whether it's coverage of national politics, such as the budget deal, or local items such as the Dallas nursing home residents with no power.

It's rare, however, that results of a new study, especially with a product focus, actually make me excited. That's not to say I don't appreciate reading about a vendor's award, or the latest Alzheimer's study. But I see these more objectively than, say, the release Monday about a new option for glaucoma treatment. That's news where I thought, “Wow!”

If all politics is local, all health news is personal. I have spectacularly terrible vision (as a corrective lens of -13.5 in my left eye and -10.5 in my right), and a higher-than-average risk of retinal detachment, which makes me concerned about glaucoma as I grow older. I'm also married to someone at a high risk for developing glaucoma, and he hates eye drops about as much as he does needles.

He's not alone: There is “notoriously poor patient adherence” for using the drops to treat glaucoma, said Joseph Ciolino, M.D., cornea and disease specialist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, in a statement. Glaucoma does not have a cure and is estimated to affect 2.2 million Americans, although only half have been diagnosed, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. It's the second leading cause of blindness in the world, per the World Health Organization.

That's why the work of Ciolino and other researchers in creating a contact lens that can deliver the medication is so meaningful. They have designed drug-eluting contact lenses that dispense latanoprost, a common glaucoma medication. The lenses can dispense the drug in large amounts over weeks to months.

The lenses have appeared safe in cell culture and animal studies. They can be made with corrective ability for those of us who are vision-challenged, or with no refractive power.

While those who are able to receive these contacts will still need guidance — don't wear contacts when sleeping, wash your hands before changing them, etc. — this product potentially has the chance to save millions from becoming blind, as Ciolino noted.

That's not just a big deal for your residents, but for people who run the risk of not being able to work due to diminishing eyesight, both here and abroad. Beyond the direct economic hit, as the WHO says, “The physical limitations and psychosocial implications of visual impairment cannot be measured in exact monetary terms. Nevertheless, it is clear that they diminish the quality of life not only for blind persons, but for their families as well.”

It may be years before either employees or long-term care residents can easily access these new and improved contact lenses. But the day, I am confident, is coming.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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