As people age, they are at higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.
“While many of these diseases and conditions have no warning signs, they can be detected in their early stages during a comprehensive eye exam,” says Dr. Bruce Rosenthal, Chief of Low Vision Services at Lighthouse Guild, the leading organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss. The key to saving sight is early detection and treatment.”
“September is Healthy Aging Month, so it’s a good time to remind older adults about steps they can take to care for their eyes and protect their vision,” he adds.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among adults over 50. It gradually destroys the macula, the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision. A variety of treatments can help reduce the risk of vision loss in people with AMD.
Cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that causes vision loss and is very common in older people. Surgery is the only effective treatment. It is one of the most common surgeries in the US.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that damages blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of vision loss by 95 percent.
Glaucoma can cause fluid and pressure to build up in the eye and damage the optic nerve. It first affects side vision, but can lead to total vision loss without treatment.
Treating Low Vision
Low vision describes vision loss that makes daily tasks difficult. “Normal aging of the eye does not lead to low vision; it is a result of eye diseases, injuries or both,” says Dr. Rosenthal. Low vision symptoms include loss of central and/or peripheral vision, blurred or hazy vision or night blindness.
“If you experience any of these problems, it is important to see your ophthalmologist, who will check for and treat any underlying conditions and advise on resources, aids and devices—including brighter lighting—to help with reading and other daily tasks,” Dr. Rosenthal explains.
Systemic health problems like high blood pressure can affect eye health, and the ability to see clearly can change frequently. “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,” Dr. Rosenthal advises.
Preventing Vision Loss
Those with a family history of conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes are at greater risk of developing these eye conditions. Early detection is the key to preserving vision. Diabetics are especially at risk. People with diabetes should schedule a complete eye examination that includes a dilated fundus exam (an evaluation of the retina) to look for very early signs of the condition.
In addition to regular comprehensive eye exams, which can detect problems before noticeable vision loss occurs, many lifestyle factors can play an important role in protecting vision as we age.
Following these recommendations will support eye health:
• Eating a balanced diet including dark, leafy greens and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
• Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising.
• Getting enough sleep to rest and continuously lubricate the eyes.
• Quitting smoking.
• Keeping diabetes under control.
• Wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat outdoors.
• Wearing protective eyewear during vigorous activity.
• Avoiding falls with slip-proof rugs and secure railings.
• Discussing your family’s eye health history with your eye care professional.
“Prevention of vision loss across the life span—is our vision insurance policy that can help to preserve and maintain our quality of life, especially as we get older,” Dr. Rosenthal says.
Lighthouse Guild is the leading organization dedicated to addressing and preventing vision loss. For more information, visit Lighthouseguild.org.