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The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study started in 2000 as the nation’s largest and most comprehensive study of vision in Latinos, and it still holds that distinction. LALES was supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, along with Research to Prevent Blindness.

LALES showed that Latinos have higher rates of developing visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease and cataracts than non-Hispanic whites. The burden of vision loss and eye disease on the Latino community is increasing as the population ages, and many eye diseases are becoming more common.

LALES was first to analyze the risk and prevalence of early and late stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its impact on quality of life for older Latinos. Among other findings, the study determined the following outcomes:

  • Latinos diagnosed with bilateral AMD with large drusen (the lipids or fatty proteins that are yellow deposits under the retina) and depigmentation as well as a more severe AMD had a substantially lower health-related quality of life as compared to those with AMD lesions in only one eye.
  • Declines begin with early stages of the disease and interfere with quality of life. For instance, 80 percent of early AMD participants reported difficulty driving vs. 43 percent who had late AMD.
  • 91.6 percent of early AMD participants reported vision-related social function impact and 74.4 percent had near vision problems as compared to 67.7 percent and 46.9 percent respectively of late AMD participants.

AMD is a chronic, progressive disease affecting 2 million Americans and typically diagnosed in those people 50-to-60 years of age. LALES was conducted among 4,876 Latinos in Los Angeles with a mean age cohort of 54.8 years old.

Also of critical concern was the lower level of health care access among this group, which is likely to impact follow-up care of these patients and may make them more susceptible to diminished quality of life. Among those with any signs of AMD, only 57 percent reported ever visiting an eye care practitioner, and only 21 percent did so annually.

Diabetes remains a major concern among this population.

  • Nearly 1/2 of all study participants presented with diabetes. Almost 1/4 had some signs of diabetic retinopathy. Latinos have a higher rate of more severe vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy than non-Hispanic whites.
  • More than 10 percent of participants with diabetes had macular edema (fluid buildup in the back of the eye), of whom 60 percent required laser treatment.
  • One in 5 individuals with diabetes was newly diagnosed during the LALES clinic exam, and 25 percent were found to have diabetic retinopathy.
  • In the 4-year period between LALES I and LALES II, 34 percent of Latinos with diabetes developed diabetic retinopathy.
  • Among those with diabetic retinopathy at the beginning of the study, 39 percent showed worsening of the disease.

Latinos are also at increased glaucoma risk. LALES revealed that:

  • in participants with open-angled glaucoma (OAG) in one eye, the four-year risk of OAG developing in the other eye was five times as high as the risk for those without OAG in either eye at baseline, and
  • in participants with ocular hypertension (OHT) in one eye, the four-year risk of OHT developing in the other eye was 10 times as high as the risk for those without OHT in either eye at baseline.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began providing a glaucoma screening benefit to Latinos aged 50 years and older as a result of the high rate of glaucoma reported by LALES.

LALES is now in its third phase of data collection (eight-year follow-up).

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