Purpose: The aim of the study was to describe the 10-year incidence and progression of retinal drusen, retinal pigmentary abnormalities, and signs of late age-related maculopathy.
Design: Population-based cohort study.
Participants: The study included 4926 persons, 43 to 86 years of age at the time of a baseline examination from 1988 through 1990, living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, of whom 3684 participated in a 5-year follow-up examination and 2764 participated in a 10-year follow-up.
Methods: Characteristics of drusen and other lesions typical of age-related maculopathy were determined by grading stereoscopic color fundus photographs using the Wisconsin Age-Related Maculopathy Grading System.
Main outcomes measures: Incidence of drusen type and size, pigmentary abnormalities, geographic atrophy, and exudative degeneration.
Results: The 10-year incidence of early age-related maculopathy was 12.1% and of late age-related maculopathy it was 2.1%. There was a statistically significant increased incidence of age-related maculopathy lesions with age (P < 0.05). Individuals 75 years of age or older at baseline had significantly (P < 0.01) higher 10-year incidences of the following characteristics than people 43 to 54 years of age: larger sized drusen (125 micro m-249 micro m, 26.3% vs. 3.3%; > or =250 micro m, 16.2% vs. 1.0%), soft indistinct drusen (22.2% vs. 2.2%), retinal pigment abnormalities (19.5% vs. 0.8%), exudative macular degeneration (4.1% vs. 0%), and pure geographic atrophy (3.1% vs. 0%). Compared with those with small numbers of only small, hard drusen (1-2), those with large numbers of only hard drusen (8 or more) had an increased 10-year incidence of both soft drusen (12.3% vs. 6.7%) and pigmentary abnormalities (4.9% vs. 1.7%). Eyes with soft indistinct drusen or retinal pigmentary abnormalities at baseline, were more likely to develop late age-related macular degeneration at follow-up than eyes without these lesions (15.1% vs. 0.4% and 20.0% vs. 0.8%, respectively).
Conclusions: These population-based estimates document the high incidence of signs of age-related maculopathy in people 75 years of age or older. Our findings demonstrate that large numbers of hard drusen predict the incidence of soft drusen and pigmentary abnormalities and that the presence of the latter lesions significantly increases the risk for the development of geographic atrophy and exudative macular degeneration.