As we age, it’s not uncommon for our eyesight to become impaired. A significant portion of seniors rely on glasses in order to see, but glasses alone shouldn’t be relied on to care for and maintain the health of your eyes. No one appreciates eyesight problems, of course, but for seniors looking to keep their independence, eye problems pose an especially difficult challenge.
By understanding common age-related eyesight afflictions, we can be better prepared to take proactive measures to minimize impairment.
Of vision-impairing diseases, the most common is the cataract. This disease occurs when the lens of the eye, which is typically transparent, becomes opaque or cloudy. Cataracts can be a challenge to detect because they generally develop slowly. Symptoms can include:
- Blurry, cloudy, yellow or dimmed vision
- Heightened sensitivity to light
- Faded colors
- Frequent changes to glasses prescription
- Double vision
While age is the most common risk factor associated with cataracts, there are other notable risks – including smoking, eye injuries, tanning, diabetes and steroid use. It is crucial to visit an ophthalmologist once a year to monitor eye health and take proactive steps to avoid vision degradation. To minimize your risk of developing cataracts, it is also recommended to avoid tanning booths and quit smoking. Certain glasses can help with cataracts, but the only true treatment is surgery, in which an artificial lens replaces the cloudy lens.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Among adults over the age of 70, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of vision impairment. A degenerative disease, ARMD affects the macula, which is the small spot in the center of the eye that provides sharpness and clarity in the center of the field of vision. Accordingly, those with ARMD are likely to experience blurred vision or blind spots. People with heightened risk of ARMD include adults over 75, smokers, women, people with high cholesterol and people with a family history of the disease. There is no definitive treatment for ARMD yet, but some cases can be treated or slowed with laser eye surgery.
Glaucoma is signified by pressure buildup in the eye which causes damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is considered one of the hardest eyesight diseases to diagnose because most people do not display any symptoms, but if it is detected in its early stages, excessive vision loss can be prevented through surgery. To be safe, it is advised to have your eyes checked regularly – especially if you are 60 or older, have diabetes or have a family history of glaucoma.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Approximately 80% of people who have had diabetes for at least 15 years develop diabetic eye disease. This affliction causes diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the eye’s blood vessels. Annual eye exams are critical in detecting this disease early and preserving eyesight. Diabetics who are successful in keeping their blood sugar levels under control are also less likely to experience diabetic eye disease.
Eye health is closely tied to other areas of physical well-being, so annual medical check-ups are an important way to detect and treat other problems that can lead to eyesight issues. Additionally, you can help preserve your sight in your senior years by maintaining a healthy diet that includes dark greens, wearing UV protective sunglasses when outdoors and of course by getting your eyes checked regularly.
Charlie Nadler is a community education writer for Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. CMSS is the most extensive senior services network on Chicago’s north side, providing services such as senior home care, assisted living, and more.