Eye Health: An Increasing Concern for Aging Adults
78 percent of aging Americans affected by vision loss; Michigan Optometric Association (MOA) offers tips to protect eyesight throughout life
It’s a fact of life that vision can change over time, resulting in a number of noticeable differences in how well aging adults see the world around them. In fact, according to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2014 American Eye-Q consumer survey, 78 percent of adults age 55 or older report experiencing some vision loss. “The number of blind and visually impaired people is expected to double over the next 16 years,” said Dr. J. Gregory Ford, MOA member and practicing optometrist in Grand Rapids, MI. “This staggering statistic has implications for millions of aging Americans, but these changes don’t have to compromise a person’s lifestyle. Maintaining good health and seeing an eye doctor on a regular basis are important steps to help preserve vision.”
Common age-related vision problems include difficulty seeing things up close or far away, problems seeing in low light or at night, and sensitivity to light and glare. Some symptoms that may seem like minor vision problems may actually be signs of serious eye diseases that could lead to permanent vision loss, including:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): An eye disease affecting the macula, the center of the light sensitive retina at the back of the eye. AMD can cause loss of central vision.
Cataracts: A clouding of the lens of the eye that usually develops slowly over time and can interfere with vision. Cataracts can cause a decrease in visual contrast between objects and their background, a dulling of colors and an increased sensitivity to glare.
Diabetic retinopathy: A condition occurring in people with diabetes, which causes progressive damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop the condition, which can lead to blindness.
Glaucoma: An eye disease leading to progressive damage to the optic nerve due to rising internal fluid pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness.
Dry eye is another common and often chronic condition that Americans can experience later in life. Dry eye occurs when there are insufficient tears to nourish the eye. Tears are important for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for clear, quality vision. Studies show that women are more likely to develop dry eye, especially during menopause.
Aging Americans will represent 19 percent of the population by 2030, up from 12 percent in 2000. Coping with age-related eye diseases and disorders and the resulting changes in health and lifestyles is top-of-mind for this growing group of consumers. The AOA’s American Eye-Q survey revealed that 40 percent of consumers age 55 or older are worried about losing their ability to live independently as a result of developing a serious vision problem. Many eye diseases have no early symptoms and may develop painlessly; therefore, adults may not notice changes in vision until the condition is quite advanced. Healthy lifestyle choices can help ward off eye diseases and maintain existing eyesight.
“Eating a low-fat diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish, not smoking, monitoring blood pressure levels, exercising regularly and wearing proper sunglasses to protect eyes from UV rays can all play a role in preserving eyesight and eye health, said Dr. Ford. “Early diagnosis and treatment of serious eye diseases and disorders is critical and can often prevent a total loss of vision, improve adults’ independence and quality of life.”
For those suffering from age-related eye conditions, the Michigan Optometric Association recommends following a few simple tips:
- Control glare: Purchase translucent lamp shades, install light-filtering window blinds or shades, use matte or flat finishes for walls and countertops and relocate the television to where it does not reflect glare.
Use contrasting colors: Decorate with throw rugs, light switches and telephones that are different colors so they can be spotted quickly and easily.
Change the settings on mobile devices: Increase the text size on the screen of smartphones and tablets and adjust the screen’s brightness or background color.
Stay safe while driving: Wear quality sunglasses for daytime driving and use anti-reflective lenses to reduce headlight glare. Limit driving at dusk, dawn or at night if seeing under low light is difficult.
Maintaining yearly eye exams, or more frequently if recommended by an eye doctor, provides the best protection for preventing the onset of eye diseases and allows adults to continue leading active and productive lifestyles as they age. To find a doctor of optometry or for additional information on age-related eye conditions, visit www.themoa.org and www.aoa.org.