According to the Census Bureau, there are 54 million adults 65 years of age and older and that number is expected to grow to 80 million by 2040. Likewise, the number of older people with vision loss is expected to double by 2050. What does this mean to you?
Part of healthy aging is taking care of your eyes. According to the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), with which VisionAware partners, “Early detection and treatment are key to saving sight.” Some older people are at higher risk than others. Research by Varma et al indicates that non-Hispanic whites, particularly white women, represent the largest proportion of people affected by visual impairment and blindness. Older women are at particular risk of having an eye condition, and they are more likely to have untreated refractive errors as well as dry eye syndrome.
Types of Vision Loss Generally Occurring With Aging?
NEHEP states that “While vision loss is not a normal part of aging, older adults are at higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions”, including the following:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can blur your central vision. It happens when aging causes damage to the macula — the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. The macula is part of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). There are 2 types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD happens in 3 stages: early, intermediate, and late. It usually progresses slowly over several years and there are no current treatments. Dry can turn into wet AMD and happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye and damage the macula. There are treatment options for wet AMD.
- A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts. Over time, cataracts can make your vision blurry, hazy, or less colorful. You may have trouble reading or doing other everyday activities. Cataract surgery is generally safe and corrects vision problems caused by cataracts.
- Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye). Diabetes can also make you more likely to develop several other eye conditions such as cataracts and open-angle glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy should be treated right away.
- Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging a nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve. Symptoms start slowly and you may not notice them. The only way to find out if you have glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. There’s no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision.
- Dry Eye happens when your eyes don’t make enough tears to stay wet, or when your tears don’t work correctly. This can make your eyes feel uncomfortable, and in some cases, it can also cause vision problems. There are lots of things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and stay comfortable including eye drops, tear duct plugs, lifestyle changes, and even surgery. According to the National Eye Institute Dry Eye Fact Sheet, “Dry eye is more common after menopause. Women who experience menopause prematurely are more likely to have eye surface damage from dry eye.”
How Do You Find Out If You Have An Eye Condition?
Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam is critical. A comprehensive dilated eye examination generally lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, and is performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Research shows that getting regular eye exams and using proper prescription glasses can help prevent falls. Through a comprehensive exam you can find out if you have or are at risk for one of the eye conditions previously discussed or if you are experiencing normal vision changes, some of which are increased sensitivity to glare, needing more lighting, having problems adjusting to bright light or darkness, and decreased ability to focus close up.
What Should I Ask My Eye Doctor?
First you need to prepare for your visit. The VisionAware peers have prepared a list of things to consider when you see your eye care specialist. VisionAware also provides a list of questions you can ask your doctor.
Takeaway for Healthy Aging Month
Don’t delay. Make an eye appointment today. As the infographic below says, “look forward to the future…get a dilated eye exam and protect your sight.”