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We are all well aware of how much physical strength wanes as we age. Not surprisingly, our eyes, similarly, decline with age, perhaps even with accelerating declination from age 60 onward.
Specific age-related eye changes, such as cataracts or farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye (presbyopia), are perfectly normal and don’t signify a disease process. These are absolutely common along with age and can be readily corrected with treatment.
Millions however, will experience more serious age-related eye diseases with far greater impact on their quality of life during the aging process. Diseases that cause serious vision loss and even sometimes blindness such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and even diabetic retinopathy will affect millions of people globally.
Passing age of 40 is typically a first trigger. You may begin to notice more difficulty focusing on close objects. This is normal. The lens inside of your eye is slowly hardening – presbyopia – resulting in related loss of focusing ability.
Many people find that they can compensate for this focusing decline by simply holding their reading materials farther away from their eyes. Hence, the feeling that the older you get the longer your arms need to be. Eventually, proper reading glasses, multifocal contact lenses or multifocal eyeglasses are the correct solution. Corrective surgery options for presbyopia may also be possible; you can discuss CK and LASIK with your caregiver.
Cataracts are quite common among seniors as part of the typically expected age-related changes. A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens located inside the eye. About half of all 65-year-old Americans have some cataract formation. Closing into age 70 and beyond, that number jumps much higher. [National Institute of Health]
Modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and effective so much so that100% of vision lost due to cataract formation can usually be restored. As you experience vision changes, possibly due to cataracts, do not hesitate to discuss the symptoms with your eye doctor. It is generally better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far. Artificial replacement lens implants, or intraocular lenses (IOLs), may be advised to restore ranges of vision issues. You may even reduce your need for reading glasses and/or distance glasses post cataract surgery with multifocal lens implants.
Age-Centric Eye Diseases
The NEI counts over 10 million Americans past age 40 as having diabetes. Experts expect that as much as 30% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. Best estimates show that 40% have diabetic retinopathy at some level and one out of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy. Controlling the underlying diabetic condition in its early stages is the key to preventing vision loss.
age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is a leading cause of blindness among seniors. According to the NEI (National Eye Institute) macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million people in the United States. The U.S. population is aging rapidly, and these numbers are expected to rise to 3 million by 2020. There is no known cure for AMD although medical treatment may slow its progression and the hope is to stabilize and eventually cure it.
Individual risk of developing glaucoma increases per each decade after age 40 – from around 1% during the 40s soaring to 12% at age 80. The number of Americans with glaucoma is expected to grow by 50% by 2020. If detected early, glaucoma can be controlled with medical treatment or surgery. Vision loss can be prevented, so get tested early and follow your eye doctor’s guidance.
We should not only think of aging as it relates to presbyopia and cataracts. Subtle changes in vision and eye structure as well take place as we age.
Retina cells, responsible for proper color vision, decline in sensitivity with aging. This causes color to appear duller with less contrast between colors. Blue color, in particular will fade and wash-out. Since treatment for this age-related loss of color perception is not conclusive you must be conscious of this loss especially if your profession (artist, fashion, etc.) depends on fine color distinctions.
Muscles which control pupil size and reaction to light weaken with age. This results in smaller and less responsive pupils, to changes in ambient lighting. Due to this, people above age 60 require up to three times the ambient light for comfortable reading vs. age 20s. Seniors are also more likely to be dazzled by bright sunlight and glare when emerging from a dimly lit building. Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating help resolve this issue.
With age, the gel-like vitreous inside of the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina, causing “spots and floaters” and “flashes” of light. This condition, called vitreous detachment, is typically harmless but floaters and flashes of light can signal the beginning of a retinal detachment – a serious problem which can cause blindness unless it is treated immediately. Contact your eye doctor immediately if you do experience flashes and floaters.
Aging bodies produce much fewer tears. This is especially true of women, postmenopausal. Any experience of burning or stinging, or for that matter any other eye discomfort such as dry eyes, should be brought to your eye doctor for immediate help. You may be advised to use artificial tears or prescription dry eye medication to provide increased comfort.
Aging causes a normal narrowing of peripheral field of vision. The size of visual field decreases by approximately one-to-three degrees per each decade of life. Ages 70-80s can expect a peripheral visual field loss of 20-30 degrees.
Because a loss of visual field increases the risk for automobile accidents, increased caution is called for when driving. The decreased range of vision requires more specific head-turning to scan all directions at traffic intersections.
Much can, and should be done, to lower risk and increase life quality to age more gracefully. Healthy diet and wiser lifestyle choices begin and end with more regular exercising. Maintain a healthy and steady weight. Reduce stresses to absolutely controlled and low levels. No smoking! Healthy, natural choices are the ideal defense mechanisms against vision loss. Schedule regular eye exams with a caring optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Discuss all concerns about your eyes and vision with your eye doctor. Record and explain any history of eye problems in your family and any related health problems you may have. Be sure to clarify with your eye doctor the specifics of any medications you take, including non-prescription vitamins or supplements.
One out of every six adults, age 45 and above, have sight-threatening eye problems. The risk of vision loss increases with age. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) estimates that over 43 million Americans will develop age-related eye diseases by 2020.
7 Tips for Protecting Your Precious Eyes
To protect your eyesight and stay eye-healthy as you age, follow these basic guides:
Have your eyes checked at least every two years including a thorough eye exam with pupil dilation to help detect eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration or glaucoma which may not have early warning signs or symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam will also ensure that your prescription eyeglasses or lenses are up-to-date.
Following these steps is no forever guarantee of perfect vision. However, maintaining health and a quality lifestyle along with regular eye exams will certainly manage your risk of eye problems to give you the precious eyesight you deserve.
Age-related vision loss can be addressed with practical solutions. Experiment with adjusting the light settings when reading or working in your home or office. Due to the fact that after 60 your eye’s pupil decreases in diameter it is difficult to see in dim light. Images and objects appear hazy as less light reaches your retina. This is why you will need to add extra light to perform certain tasks.
Some modification that can help you adjust to age-related vision loss are:
Illuminate places that have dark corners like garage spaces, above the stove and under kitchen cabinets. Work surfaces should have ample light. Brighten any area that will require you to perform fine motor skill tasks such as sewing or typing. Your workplace may be a place where you will need to add some lighting if possible. Don’t forget to schedule regular eye exams as they are essential in monitoring your vision problems. It is important to get your eyes checked to rule out any serious age-related eye diseases.
Another reason for regular eye exams is that your doctor can provide you with options on how to reduce the effects of normal age-related vision degeneration, such as color vision, near vision and contrast sensitivity. A quite common age-related vision problem is Cataracts. It is very common in the over-60 age group. Hazy and cloudy vision are the most common symptoms. Cataract sometimes can be remedied with surgery. The procedure is done to remove the eye’s cloudy lens. The natural eye lens is then replaced with an artificial one.
Permanent Vision Loss and Your Options
One of the major symptoms of age-related diseases such as glaucoma, retinopathy and macular degeneration is blind spots and vision loss. Living with low vision is possible with nonprescription devices that make daily tasks more manageable. Some examples include:
Vision Loss and the Elderly
Older Adults living in nursing homes often neglect to take care of gradual vision loss caused by glaucoma. When glaucoma goes untreated it can lead to blindness.
Routine eye examinations are necessary for the elderly. Uncorrected vision problems may lead to falls and/or permanent vision loss. Elderly people who live alone need to have someone who can make sure that they schedule routine eye examinations. Losing their vision will undermine their confidence and it puts them at risk of accidents and falls. They will no longer be able to be independent.
Promoting routine eye examinations and eye care education may reduce the risk of further debilitating eye conditions in the aging population.
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