How Seniors Can Protect Their Vision
Happy Healthy Aging Month! According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, one in six Americans age 65 and older have a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
Seniors are at a higher risk of eye disease, yet many do not prioritize eye examinations and checkups. Vision damage, loss, and blindness can be prevented or slowed in many of these cases if it is caught in time, so we want to emphasize the importance of regular comprehensive eye exams!
After age 65, you should be having an eye exam at least once every year, but depending on your health and history, your doctor may recommend more frequent visits.
The most common causes of vision loss for seniors are the following:
Age-related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when the part of the retina called the macula is damaged or begins to accumulate debris. There are two types: dry and wet. Most people (about 80%) have the dry form, in which the macula accumulates debris causing yellow bumps called drusen and central vision is slowly lost. The wet form occurs when the macula is damaged by blood vessels, and vision is lost rapidly. AMD is one of the diseases that can sneak up on you. Though it often progresses over several years, there are no early symptoms. Late symptoms include: central vision loss, blurry/fuzzy vision, difficulty recognizing faces, and/or straight lines appearing wavy. Your chances of developing AMD are higher if you are over 55, have a family history, smoke, have hypertension, and/or are caucasian. There is currently no treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration, though if it is caught in early or intermediate stages your doctor may recommend vitamin supplements that can slow the progression to late AMD. The wet form can be treated with injections or laser treatment.
Glaucoma is another silent and sneaky disease - often, people who have it are not aware until their vision is significantly damaged. Those who are over 60, have a family history of glaucoma, have diabetes, or have myopia are at a higher risk for the disease. Certain ethnicities are also at a higher risk, including Hispanic, Latino and Black populations. Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops or laser treatment. However, this will only prevent further damage, and cannot reverse the damage that has already occurred.
A natural aging change of the eye, every person on the planet will develop cataracts over time. There are different types of cataracts so some might develop faster or slower. The most common form (nuclear cataract) occurs naturally over time. You may notice the following symptoms: nearsightedness, cloudy/blurry vision, poor night vision, faded colors, seeing double in one eye, seeing a “halo” around lights, and needing increasingly brighter light to read. Risk factors for cataracts include being over 40 years old, eye inflammation, a family history of cataracts, long-term steroid use, eye injuries/diseases, years of excessive UV exposure, smoking, and other health conditions such as high blood pressure. Cataracts are treated with surgery – it is one of the safest and most commonly performed procedures in the United States, so no need to fear!
This disease often shows up later in life, and can cause vision loss or even blindness due to damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk becomes for developing diabetic retinopathy. There are often no symptoms in the early stage of the disease, but as it begins to progress, symptoms may include seeing spots or floaters, blurry vision, an area of darkness/blankness in your vision, poor night vision, vision fluctuating from blurry to clear, and faded colors. If you are diabetic, taking care of your diet, exercise, and medication can help to prevent or slow the disease in its early stages. However, once it has started to show symptoms and progresses into the later stages, there is no way to reverse the effects. Treatment options can stop the vision damage, and may include laser treatment, injections, or surgery.
One thing these conditions all have in common: the positive effects of regular eye exams! Your doctor will often be able to catch issues while they are still minor, before they develop into larger problems with damage to your vision. If you are over 65, schedule an appointment today and get in the habit of regular, comprehensive eye exams. If you have a loved one who is over 65, show your support and encourage them to protect their vision!