Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness around the country and it's stealing sight from one in seven Australians.
There's no cure for the disease but regular eye injections could keep neovascular macular degeneration at bay.
According to a report from the Macular Degeneration Foundation of Australia (MDFA) 20 per cent of patients stop eye injection treatment in their first year and 50 per cent stop within 5 years.
These patients risked developing severe vision loss or blindness, the report said.
MDFA patron and media icon Ita Buttrose told ACM treatment needed to be more affordable and accessible for ageing Australians.
Greater health literacy was needed so patients understood the importance of staying on treatment, she said.
"No one should lose their sight because of where they live or because they can't afford routine injections," she said.
"The MDFA report tells us if state, territory and federal governments collaborated they could save up to $2 billion over the next decade by helping 25 per cent of patients with age-related macular degeneration stay on sight-saving treatment," Ms Buttrose said.
The signs of age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is a painless condition that affects the central retina causing progressive vision loss.
As the disease progresses symptoms include difficulty reading and distinguishing faces.
Macular degeneration could also distort images and made straight lines appear wavy or bent.
But the early stages of the disease were easy to miss and that's why regular check-ups were so important, the MDFA report said.
Almost a quarter of Australia's population will be over 65 years old within the next 40 years and rates of macular degeneration will climb with the ageing population, the report said.
Treatment for macular degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry.
No treatment is available for dry macular degeneration.
Patients with a wet form of the disease could receive regular sight-saving eye injections.
This treatment involved an average of five to seven eye injections in each eye every year and often for the rest of the patient's lives, the report said.
Macular degeneration was prevalent in the Buttrose family.
"My Uncle Gerald turns 100 this year and he's received 140 injections," Ms Buttrose said.
Ms Buttrose said her uncle experienced discomfort during only one of his many injections.
"His vision is fantastic," she said.
"Whereas three of his siblings, including my father, all lost their vision."
Who has access to treatment?
Patients can get eye injections through private or bulk-billed ophthalmology clinics and public hospitals.
The report, Investing to Save Sight, identified a number of reasons older Australians might stop seeking treatment for macular degeneration.
The fear associated with receiving five to seven eye injections each year could be a "heavy burden", the report said.
There are significant ongoing out-of-pocket costs for the injections and patients didn't always perceive treatment would be beneficial.
Older Australians with the disease often needed someone to drive them to appointments if they had access to an eye specialist.
"It has become very difficult for people in rural or regional areas to find a doctor who can give these sight-saving injections," Ms Buttrose said.
Macular degeneration is often compounded with other medical conditions, the report said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
MDFA commissioned PwC Australia to model the economic advantages to patients, carers and the government of persisting with treatment.
The report found "modest additional government investment" in health literacy, affordability and access to treatment could save billions of taxpayer dollars over the next decade.
"We have a gold standard treatment available to stop people from losing their sight," Ms Buttrose said.
"If there are ways we can improve access and affordability for older Australians, then we should be doing it," she said.
"As there's a bottom-line benefit to the government, this should be an obvious decision for government to make."