As we age, our bodies undergo physical changes that can impact our quality of life. Vision loss, for example, is common in older adults. Approximately one in three adults over the age of 65 have some form of vision-reducing eye disease. As we age, so does our risk of developing eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, which can severely damage our eyes and result in vision loss when left untreated. In addition to developing age-related eye conditions, older adults are also more likely to develop other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can lead to vision impairment. Seniors must take extra precautions to maintain optimum eye health and reduce their risk of developing eye conditions, especially those of which are commonly found in older adults.
There are certain eye conditions that physicians often look for when consulting with senior patients. Cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma are some of the most common eye-related ailments that arise later in life. While all three can result in vision loss, they affect the eyes in different ways. Here’s how they work, along with a few other common eye conditions:
Our eyes have a clear lens that helps focus light on the retina. When we get older, this lens can become cloudy, which is referred to as a cataract. Most people experience a progressive decrease in vision and might notice using their readers more often, or still, struggle to see even when using corrective lenses.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 24.2 million Americans age 40 and older experience cataracts. Furthermore, nearly half of all Americans have cataracts by the age of 75. While cataracts are the most common cause of visual blindness globally, they are highly treatable and vision loss can usually be corrected through a surgical procedure.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula and can cause central vision loss. The macula is the center of the retina at the back of the eye that allows us to see colors and fine details. The most common type of macular degeneration, dry form, results in the atrophying of the macula’s cells, which can build up on the retina and cause a slow progression of vision loss. AMD can affect daily activities like cooking, reading, driving and even watching TV. Depending on the case, macular degeneration can be treated with injections, or eye drops and vitamins.
Glaucoma describes a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. This can result in the loss of peripheral vision, which can be hard to notice in the beginning stages. Many people only notice changes in their vision when the center field of vision becomes impaired. Glaucoma is typically treated with topical eye drops, however, irreversible vision loss can occur if left untreated.
Tears help to protect the surface of the eye and can also provide clear vision. Dry eye occurs when too few tears are produced, resulting in dry and itchy eyes. It’s not uncommon for older adults to develop this condition, especially when taking certain medications or if they live in windy and dry climates. Usually, dry eyes can be treated with artificial tears or prescription drugs.
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from underlying tissue, which can be caused by a backup of fluid, head or eye trauma, or health problems such as diabetes. If left untreated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
Although the risk of developing an eye condition comes with age and can be influenced by family history, there are some things we can start doing now to preserve and improve our eye health. Diet is a key lifestyle factor that can have long-term effects on our ocular health. Eating a balanced diet is good for overall health, but it’s especially good for our eyes. Colorful fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, lean red meat, beans and whole grains all contain nutrients and minerals that are good for ocular health.
In addition to our diet, overall lifestyle choices are important factors in maintaining good eye health. For example, quitting smoking can greatly reduce the risk of developing age-related vision problems. Wearing sunglasses, taking breaks while working at the computer or reading a book and checking your blood pressure are all helpful tips to implement into our daily lives. Likewise, exercising each day can help promote good circulation and oxygen intake, which is important for our eyes.
It’s also recommended that those 65 and older have their eyes checked every year. If you are experiencing any symptoms of eye conditions, like blurry vision or slow progressive vision loss, it’s important to consult a doctor right away. Identifying and treating eye conditions quickly can help prevent additional eye damage.
Some diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration can cause vision loss when left untreated for long periods. However, low vision resources can help with regaining some independence after vision loss. Here are a few tools that can be helpful for those experiencing changes in their vision:
• Magnifiers. A magnifying lens can be mounted in spectacles to form a microscope, which can be used for close-up tasks like writing a letter. Magnifiers can also come as handheld telescopes to help people see longer distances or modified for reading tasks.
• Video magnification. Table-top systems can be used to read magazines and newspapers, while smaller more portable systems are good for reading menus or labels at the grocery store.
With today’s technology advancements, researchers have been able to develop a wide variety of tools that can help make daily tasks easier for those with low-vision. The American Foundation for the Blind has compiled a list of the best low-vision solutions for seniors, which can be found here.
Our Maplewood Senior Living Communities are dedicated to providing the tools and solutions that improve the quality of life for all residents, including those who have low-vision. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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