In one respect, age helps us all to see things more clearly. However, almost everyone’s vision suffers as we grow older. This is why it is so important to take steps to preserve the gift of sight for as long as possible – especially now that most of us are able to lead active lives well into our later years.
The Four Common Diseases We Must All Guard Against
There are four eye diseases that are of particular concern to older people. These are the four leading causes of blindness among older Americans and they are not usually noticeable in the early stages. However, it is in the early stages that these diseases are most treatable. This is why everyone 65 years of age and older should have an eye examination at least once every year. Trying to identify the early signs of these diseases yourself could be a terrible mistake. By the time you notice any difference in your vision, a significant amount of your vision may be lost forever.
It is estimated that nearly 75% of all those over 65 years of age have some degree of cataract, making it the most common of the eye diseases related to aging. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s normally clear lens. The only effective treatment is to surgically remove the cataract. This greatly improves vision in the vast majority of cases. Of course, many people do not need to have surgery. If your vision is not severely impaired by cataracts, you may choose to simply avoid certain activities such as driving at night.
Early warning signs of cataracts:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision or ghosted images
- Sensitivity to glare
- Frequent switching of glasses, none of which help you see better
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. And yet, once detected, it can be stopped in most cases – sometimes via surgery. The vision that is lost, however, cannot be restored.
Most cases of glaucoma develop slowly, with a gradual loss of peripheral (or side) vision. However, by the time people notice they have lost some of their side vision, glaucoma has already stolen away much of their ability to see.
Some individuals, including people with diabetes, are at higher risk. Having someone in your family who has had glaucoma also increases your chances of developing the disease. Risk also increases for people who have had an eye injury or who have taken cortisone medication for an extended period of time.
Early warning signs of glaucoma:
- Loss of side vision
- Inability to adjust to darkened rooms
- Blurred or foggy vision, especially when awakening
- Frequent switching of glasses
3. Macular Degeneration
Macular Degeneration is the most common cause of severe vision loss among people over 60 years of age. The cause of this disease is unknown, and there are few options for treating it. However, numerous studies and research are being conducted that may offer more solutions in the future. Meanwhile, some people believe that antioxidants or zinc supplements may help. Out-patient laser surgery may also be an option for people with more severe Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
AMD is a very common cause of vision loss in the U.S. It usually strikes people over the age of 60. The macula is the small spot in the center of your retina. This center area is the most sensitive part of your retina and provides the sharp vision you need for reading and seeing colors clearly. When Macular Degeneration occurs, your center vision may become blurred, distorted or you may develop a blind spot.
When a large amount of central vision is lost, people find it very difficult to do simple, everyday tasks that require sharp vision. This includes reading, sewing, driving or even recognizing faces. Fortunately, AMD rarely results in complete blindness. Side vision is usually not damaged.
AMD usually affects one eye first, then the other. It can develop quickly or slowly. There are two forms of AMD. The wet form, although less common, causes the most severe loss of sight. It is called “wet” because tiny blood vessels grow rapidly beneath the retina. They often break, leaking blood and fluid.
The “dry” form, accounting for 75 to 85 percent of the AMD cases, is caused by a breakdown or thinning of the tissues in the macula. Vision loss with dry AMD is usually not as severe.
Treatment can be effective for certain types of AMD, but it must take place early in the course of the disease. Most people with AMD can keep their independence, live a normal life, and continue to enjoy many of their favorite activities. Many make good use of low vision aids, such as magnifiers, to maximize their remaining vision.
Early warning signs of macular degeneration:
- Sudden hazy or blurred vision
- Recurrent pain in or around the eyes
- Double vision
- Halos around lights
- Unusual sensitivity to light or glare
- Change in color of the iris
- Sudden development of persisting floaters
4. Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness in the Unites States for those 20 to 74 years of age. The longer one has had diabetes, the greater the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy. For this reason, those with even mild diabetes should have their eyes examined at least every year.
This disease affects the vision by damaging the blood vessels in the retina. As a result, vision may become blurred and, if untreated, may lead to blindness.
Careful control of blood sugar levels greatly reduces your chances of developing this condition. If detected early, laser therapy may effectively reduce the risk of severe vision loss.
Early warning signs of diabetic retinopathy:
- Blurred vision is the most common symptom
The Four Common Vision Changes We Can All Expect With Age
There are four common conditions that affect your vision as you get older. Nearly all of us experience these and other changes in our vision as we grow older. Yes, they can be a nuisance. But, as long as you don’t allow these minor vision impairments to put you in harm’s way, there is nothing to worry about.
1. Watery or Dry Eyes
It is common for older eyes to make too many or too few tears. As a result, your eyes may constantly feel watery or dry. Although an eye irritation or other problem may be the cause, these conditions are common with age. An eye doctor may recommend eye drops to relieve the problem.
2. Reduced Night Vision
For most of us, the older we get the harder it is to see in reduced light. It’s part of the aging process. All one can do is take extra precautions when traveling at night and keep your eyeglass prescriptions up to date.
The older we get, the harder it is to focus on objects and words that are close up. This condition is called Presbyopia. It is caused by the formation of small crystals that make the lens of our eye less flexible. As the condition progresses, the muscles around the lens can’t reshape the less flexible lens enough to focus up close. If the diminished vision becomes too bothersome, your eye doctor can prescribe glasses or contact lenses that can help.
Floaters are the tiny, dancing spots you may see when looking toward a light-colored background like a clear blue sky. As long as you do not notice a sudden increase in them, or they are accompanied by flashes of light, don’t be concerned. If these symptoms do occur, however, consult your eye doctor immediately.
How To Be Your Eyes’ Best Friend
Nearly all of us experience some changes in our vision as we grow older. In fact, our vision changes naturally throughout our lives. The good news is that you can continue to lead an active life, even though you have some minor vision problems. For example, as you grow older:
- Your eyes need more light to see
- It is harder for you to tell the difference between some colors (particularly dark shades of blue and green)
- Adjusting to glare and darkness becomes more difficult
The most important thing you can do to preserve your vision is to have your eyes examined regularly. Visiting an eye doctor at least once a year is essential. Those with diabetes need to go much more often.
When you go for an eye examination, talk to your doctor about your eyes and your vision. You can learn what problems may develop with your vision, how those problems can be detected, and what steps you can take to protect your sight. You may also find out that some things you have heard are simply not true.
Regular visits will alert you to problems and help determine if changes in your eyesight are dangerous. The fact of the matter is many disorders are hardly noticeable in their early stages, and yet this is when they can be treated most effectively.