Vision changes are an unfortunate, and often unavoidable, reality of aging for many. These changes often emerge in people’s 40s and are initially most noticeable when reading or doing other tasks that require focusing on small details. However, there are steps people can take as they age to protect their eye health. As September is Healthy Aging Month, there is no better time to begin implementing these changes to preserve vision, quality of life, independence and wellbeing as you age.
Common Vision Conditions Related to Aging
We all know someone whose vision has been impacted by aging, even if yours hasn’t been already. According to the National Eye Health Education Program, by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. To add, 92% of older adults enrolled in Medicare use eyeglasses, according to a study by the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. However, by familiarizing yourself with the warning signs and symptoms of age-related eye health issues, you can increase your chances of early detection and intervention, potentially improving your prognosis and reducing long-term treatment costs. Common red flags of serious vision issues include blurred vision, cloudiness over the lens of the eye and bloodshot or visible blood vessel damage to the whites of the eye.
Below are a few of the most common causes of vision loss in older adults:
AMD affects aging adults’ ability to complete daily tasks like reading, driving, cooking and even recognizing loved ones. To prevent AMD and slow down its progression, older adults should make lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, monitoring blood pressure and consuming a diet of leafy green vegetables.
Cataracts are characterized by cloudiness over the lens of the eye, which can lead to sensitivity to glare, blurred vision and dulled colors. To help to slow down further damage, older adults should protect their eyes from harmful UV sunlight.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes progression and is the leading cause of new blindness among middle-aged Americans, according to a study published in American Family Physician. It is caused by continuous damage to the blood vessels around the retina. Once diagnosed, keeping blood sugar at appropriate levels can help to slow its progression.
Vision Care Solutions
Early detection of vision conditions is key to preserving vision for the long-term, especially since many issues do not show visible symptoms until the later stages of disease progression, when damage has already been done. Therefore, older adults’ best chance at preserving vision health is to keep up with annual eye exams.
These eye exams help to both spot vision issues before they present lifestyle complications and also ensure people have access to the right eyesight protection for their unique needs. For instance, patients may need progressives for viewing at multiple distances, anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare and/or blue light protection. These tailored lenses address specific eyesight problems and ensure patients can properly see their surroundings, reducing risk of falls, medication mismanagement or other serious complications related to eyesight that older adults often face.
Further, eye exams are important not just for vision health, but also for overall health. In fact, when performing an eye exam, eye doctors actually get a noninvasive look inside the body. This birds-eye view into patients’ blood vessels allows eye doctors to catch serious systemic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, before a patient exhibits any external symptoms.
Although some vision deterioration is to be expected as people age, certain vision conditions more common in older adults can significantly impact standards of living if left untreated. Managing vision is key for maintaining independence and healthy lifestyles as people age. For the best chance of preserving vision health for the long-term, older adults should adopt healthy whole-body habits, educate themselves on the warning signs of serious vision conditions and keep up with annual eye exams to help detect any debilitating vision issues before they cause irreparable damage.
Mark Ruchman, MD, is the chief medical officer at Versant Health. Dr. Ruchman provides all medical and clinical oversight, which includes quality improvement, clinical guidelines and accreditation standards.