AGE-RELATED VISION CHANGES
There is no question that as we age our body begins to weaken. We notice more aches and pains, our joints and bones weaken and yes, our eyes and vision also begin to decline. While we may begin to see changes as early as our 40’s, a more rapid deterioration begins from age 60 and accelerates as we grow older.
Certain age-related eye and vision changes are totally normal and do not signify the development of a disease. These include color vision loss, dry eyes, reduced contrast and night vision, pupil shrinkage and presbyopia. Cataracts is another age related condition that can cause blindness but is easily treated with a common eye surgery. Unfortunately, there are many other age-related diseases that are much more serious and can cause permanent vision loss and blindness, having a significant impact on the quality of life during the later years. These include glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, three diseases that affect millions of people around the world.
How the Eyes Changes As We Age
Subtle changes in our vision and eye structure take place as we age. Some examples include:
After age 40, many people begin to notice difficulty seeing close objects – they have to hold books, menus and even their cell phone further away to see the text clearly. This is the sign of presbyopia, the hardening of the lens inside the eye which results in a loss in the ability to focus on near objects.
At first it may be sufficient to hold things at an arm’s length to see clearly but eventually you will probably seek a better solution, specifically reading glasses or multifocal glasses or contact lenses. If you are really bothered by wearing glasses or contacts and your eyes are otherwise healthy, surgery to replace the lens could be a possibility. Speak to your eye doctor about your options and the best solution for you.
Color Vision Loss
Color vision is made possible by retina cells which begin to deteriorate as we age. As a result colors appear more dull and contrast between color is diminished. While many people don’t notice this subtle change, people who are quite attuned to color will notice a reduction in color distinction, particular in the blue palette.
Shrinkage of the Pupil
As we age, the muscles in the eye which control the reaction and size of the pupil begin to weaken. This makes the pupils less responsive to changes in light, making it common for individuals over 60 to require more light to see clearly. It may also make glare and bright sunlight more problematic. Photochromic lenses (which darken when you enter the sunlight) and an anti-reflective, anti-glare lens coating can be helpful to reduce the sensitivity.
As we age, our eye ducts produce fewer tears, especially in postmenopausal women. Dry eyes can cause eyes to feel dry, red, irritated and gritty and sometimes cause excessive tearing. If you have any of these symptoms you should see your eye doctor for treatment, which can include eye drops or prescription medication as well as treatments to release or clear the blocked tear ducts.
Reduced Peripheral Vision
As we age, the peripheral field of vision begins to narrow reducing the size of the visual field progressively with time. While totally normal, this can be of particular concern when it comes to driving as the decreased range of vision increases the risk of accidents. Individuals should be aware of this and make a larger effort to scan their surroundings while driving.
The vitreous is a gel-like substance within the eye which begins to pull away from the retina as we age. This can cause visual symptoms such as spots, floaters and flashes of light in the field of vision. While vitreous detachment is usually not a cause for concern, floaters and flashes of light can also be a sign of the beginning of a retinal detachment – a very serious condition that can result in blindness if not treated immediately. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor immediately.
Cataracts are one of the most common eye conditions in the older population, in fact about half of Americans 65 years and older have some extent of cataract formation. As the eye ages, the natural lens begins to cloud, reducing clear vision. Cataracts are typically treated with a common surgical procedure which removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a clear, artificial lens. Today, cataract surgery is extremely safe and effective, usually being successful at restoring full vision. If a patient also has presbyopia, there may be the option to place a multifocal lens in the eye to fix both issues at once.
Eye Diseases Associated with Age
There are a number of serious eye diseases that are associated with age including:
The risk of developing glaucoma, a serious eye disease that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve, increases as you age. In fact there is a 12% risk of developing the disease at age 80. When detected and treated early, glaucoma can be controlled through medication or surgery, preventing vision loss. However once vision is lost it cannot be restored and often the disease progresses quickly without many symptoms. It’s important to have regular eye exams to detect and treat glaucoma early before vision loss occurs.
Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. AMD occurs when the macula in the eye progressively breaks down causing vision loss, specifically in the center field of vision. While there is no known cure yet for AMD, early detection and treatment may slow the progression of the disease and stabilize it enough to prevent vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is a vision threatening condition caused by the deterioration of the retina in individuals with diabetes. It’s currently estimated that 40% of people over 40 who have diabetes have some extent of diabetic retinopathy and one out of every 12 has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy. In order to prevent permanent vision loss it is essential to control the diabetes and the insulin levels. Along with their regular diabetes doctor, patients with diabetes should have regular eye exams to monitor the status of the retina and the vision.
7 TIPS FOR OPTIMAL VISION
As we age, so do our eyes and the risk of eye problems and vision loss increases. In fact, one out of every six adults age 45 and above has a vision-threatening eye condition. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), more than forty-three million Americans will develop some sort of age-related eye disease by 2020.
You don’t need to just sit around and wait for your eyes and vision to deteriorate as there are many things you can do to protect your vision and reduce your risks of eye disease and vision loss.
7 Tips for Protecting Your Precious Eyes
Here are 7 eye-health tips to protect your eyes and vision as you age:
- Regular eye exams. The number one thing you can do to protect your eyes and vision is to schedule routine eye exams every year to check the health of your eyes. Many eye diseases must be detected and treated early to prevent vision loss and often symptoms don’t appear until it’s too late. Regular eye exams can catch a developing disease before vision is lost.
- UV eye protection. UV rays from the sun can damage your eyes and increase the risk of diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Any time you go outside (winter or summer) wear sunglasses with full UV protection as well as a hat or visor to protect your eyes from UV coming in from the top or the side of your glasses.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking significantly increases your risks of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts as well as other eye diseases. This is just another reason to quit.
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens as well as omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other sources can give you nutrients that will reduce your risks of many eye diseases including macular degeneration.
- Exercise regularly. Research by the AAO suggests that regular exercise can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by as much as 70%.
- Keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control. When not controlled and monitored these diseases can cause vision loss from serious eye problems such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma and ocular hypertension. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure schedule regular eye exams to monitor your eye health.
- Know your family history and risk factors. Be aware of your latent risks for eye disease by knowing your family health history and the risk factors associated with your age, race, gender and lifestyle. If you have any risk factors tell your eye doctor and learn about what you need to do to prevent eye disease.
As with any medical issue, be on the alert for any changes in vision. If you experience any of the following conditions see an eye doctor immediately: double or hazy vision, difficulty seeing in low light conditions, flashes of light, floaters, and eye pain or swelling. Any of these symptoms may indicate a potentially serious eye health problem which need immediate attention.
Make sure your eyes are checked regularly through a comprehensive eye exam even if you don’t have any symptoms or vision loss. In addition to making sure you are seeing your best, this can detect the development of any serious eye disease. Adhering to these tips may not guarantee 20/20 vision for life but it will help you reduce your risk of eye and vision problems and to preserve your vision for a healthier life.
SUGGESTIONS FOR COPING WITH AGE-RELATED VISION CHANGES
Age-related vision difficulties and vision loss can be a challenge, but there are many solutions to help you cope and lessen the impact it can have on your daily life. Simple strategies from getting the right pair of glasses, to improving lighting, to purchasing some vision aids or magnifiers, can significantly help to compensate for reduced vision. Vision changes are normal with age yet it’s important to speak to your eye doctor so you know what to expect and ensure that the changes you are experiencing are normal and not a sign of a more serious eye or vision condition.
Normal age-related vision changes include reduced near vision (presbyopia), trouble seeing in dim light (due to the pupil shrinking and letting less light into the eye) and difficulty driving at night. Additionally, color vision and contrast sensitivity may be reduced. Most of these issues can be corrected with the right pair of eyeglasses to increase visual acuity and contrast and reduce glare. Improving lighting conditions within the home and office can also help. You may want to purchase some good portable lamps to brighten work spaces, especially when you are reading or performing fine motor skills such as typing, painting or sewing.
Cataracts is a common age-related condition in which vision is gradually reduced due to a clouding of the lens of the eye. When it begins to seriously affect vision, a surgical procedure to remove the lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens can be done. This procedure is extremely common and typically very successful in restoring vision.
Options for Permanent Vision Loss
Age related and other eye diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy can result in permanent vision loss or blind spots. This results in a condition called low vision, in which some vision remains, but the quality is compromised. This can be devastating for many people that are used to living independently but suddenly require a lot of assistance for daily living.
Thankfully, there are many products out there to help individuals with low vision manage daily tasks without assistance and the technology is always improving.
Some examples include:
- Hand held and stand magnifiers, some with lights included
- Large screen televisions and computer screens
- Phones and other devices with larger numbers or fonts
- Lenses and shields to reduce glare on screens
- Screen reader programs and wearable devices
The most important thing you can do to preserve your vision as you age is to schedule regular eye exams. Many vision-threatening diseases only begin to show symptoms when vision loss has already begun and may not be able to be restored. A thorough eye exam can detect early signs of disease and allow for treatment and preventative measures to reduce vision loss. As you begin to notice changes you should schedule regular exams to monitor your eyes and vision and to rule out any serious diseases that could cause irreparable vision loss.