Reading glasses and large-text phone displays become a way of life for many adults over 65. Vision changes affect roughly 1 in 3 seniors.
However, more serious vision issues such as partial- or full-vision loss can affect your independence and lifestyle, making it difficult to participate in daily activities like driving or cooking and hobbies like reading and crafting.
Knowing the causes, symptoms and treatments for common age-related eye conditions can help you protect against serious vision loss in your golden years.
AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 65. It affects the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. People with this affliction may experience blurriness or blind spots in the center of their vision, while still maintaining their peripheral vision, or ability to see from the sides of their eyes.
Risk factors besides age are smoking, ultraviolet exposure and high blood pressure. It is more common among Caucasians and those with a family history of the age-related macular degeneration.
A cataract occurs when the natural lens inside the eye becomes cloudy due to the breakdown of its normal proteins. Cataract sufferers may experience blurry vision, glare or a halo around lights. If the cataract becomes pronounced enough to affect a person’s day-to-day functioning, it may be treated with surgery.
Cataracts are extremely common, affecting more than half of Americans by age 80. Diabetes, smoking and excessive ultraviolet exposure can increase your risk.
According to the state Department of Health, approximately 600,000 Hawaii adults have either prediabetes or diabetes — that’s nearly half the state’s population. People with diabetes can suffer from a number of other health conditions, including eye disorders such as diabetic retinopathy. High blood sugar can cause blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid and blood cells, leading to swelling of the retina and blurred vision. Eventually, without proper treatment and blood-sugar control, vision loss can occur.
Glaucoma is a serious disease that can cause permanent vision loss and blindness if left untreated. It occurs when elevated pressure within the eye damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma first affects peripheral vision, causing “tunnel vision,” then progresses to central vision loss. Damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed, making early diagnosis and treatment key.
People with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and those who take corticosteroid medications may have a higher risk of developing glaucoma. African-Americans are much more likely to develop glaucoma, and people of Asian descent have a higher chance of developing less common forms such as angle-closure glaucoma or low-tension glaucoma.
People don’t notice the symptoms of eye conditions until their later stages, and many seniors don’t even realize they have vision problems until irreversible damage has occurred. Regular eye exams for anyone over age 60 can help early diagnosis. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends eye exams every one to two years for people 65 and older.
Consult an optometrist if you notice vision changes such as:
>> Loss of side vision
>> Cloudy, blurry or distorted vision
>> Dark or blind spots in the central area of vision
>> Sudden flashes, spots or floaters
>> Eye pain
Keep your vision healthy by using ultraviolet-filtering sunglasses, eating a diet rich in leafy greens, exercising regularly and getting quality sleep. Your eyes will thank you!