Taking Care of Our Eyes as We Age

Research shows that one in six Americans age 65 and older has a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses alone. The risk of eye disease increases with age, yet many older adults neglect to see an ophthalmologist for care. The American Academy of Ophthalmology celebrates Healthy Aging Month to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of vision loss—and steps to help seniors take care of their sight.

“Many different conditions and diseases of the eye can affect our vision as we age. Some of the common age-related conditions include cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Early detection and treatment is imperative in order to prevent sever vision loss from occurring,” said Steven Rhee, D.O., Cornea Specialist at Hawaiian Eye Center.

Normal aging of the eye does not lead to low vision; it is a result of eye diseases, injuries or both. Symptoms include loss of central and/or peripheral (side) vision, blurred or hazy vision and night blindness. If you experience any of these problems, it is important to see your ophthalmologist, who will be able to check for and treat any underlying conditions. Most people with low vision simply require brighter lighting in their living areas.

About half of all eye injuries occur in or around the home, 44% during improvement projects. The good news is that nearly all eye injuries can be prevented by using protective eyewear, so every household should have at least one pair of certified safety glasses or goggles on hand. Because falls become more common with aging, it is important to take specific measures to reduce this risk. Consider taking these safe- ty steps around the home to diminish the risks of injuring your eyes: 

  • Make sure that rugs and shower/bath/tub mats are slip-proof. 
  • Secure railings so that they are not loose. 
  • Cushion sharp corners, edges of furnishings and home fixtures. 

Systemic health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes that may be diagnosed or become more problematic in midlife can also affect eye health. One warning sign of both high blood pressure and diabetes is when the ability to see clearly changes frequently. Be sure to keep your ophthalmologist informed about your health conditions and use of medications and nutritional supplements, as well as your exercise, eating, sleeping and other lifestyle choices.

Our eyes need good blood circulation and oxygen in- take, and both are stimulated by regular exercise. Regular exercise also helps keep our weight in the normal range, which reduces the risk of diabetes and of diabetic retinopathy. Remember to use sun safety and protective eyewear when enjoying sports and recreation.

As we sleep, our eyes en- joy continuous lubrication, allowing the eyes to clear out irritants such as dust, allergens, or smoke that may have accumulated during the day.

Some research suggests that light-sensitive cells in the eye are important to our ability to regulate our wake-sleep cycles. This becomes more crucial as we age, when more people have problems with insomnia. While it’s important that we protect our eyes from over-exposure to UV light, our eyes also need exposure to some natural light every day to help maintain normal sleep-wake cycles.

Women are more likely than men to have glaucoma and women are also more likely to be visually impaired or blind due to glaucoma. Cataracts are also somewhat more common in women—and less likely to be treated. Women should be sure to adhere to their ophthalmologist’s follow-up appointment recommendations and treatment plans.

Finally, it’s important to have a complete eye exam with your ophthalmologist every year or two after age 65 to check for age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye conditions.

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