Nobody wants to lose their vision, but impairment of vision due to old age is one of the most common ailments affecting the elderly. According to the American Association for the Blind, more than 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from a severe visual impairment. Tragically, many of these cases may have been entirely preventable or reduced in severity if only they had taken a few simple precautions.
Below you will learn about three of the most common causes of vision loss in the elderly, including cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. As with most health problems, effective treatment of visual impairments begins with early detection. Understanding the warning signs for these serious conditions can help prepare you for detecting and correcting these problems as early as possible.
As we age, our eyes age with us. By the time we’ve reached middle age, the lens of our eye has thickened considerably, making it more difficult to focus on nearby objects. By the time we’re senior citizens, our sight has been greatly reduced by the decreased amount of light able to reach the retina in our eyes. Unfortunately, many people can’t tell the difference between the natural aging of the eye, and several serious types of visual impairment that commonly affect the elderly.
Many elderly people can experience a dark spot in vision, commonly called eye floaters. Although floaters are a natural part of growing old, they may also be a symptom of a more serious problem, including retinal detachment or a tumor in the eye. While floaters are generally something you can ignore, you should talk to your doctor if floaters seem to intensify over time or are accompanied by eye pain.
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Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a disease that causes loss of central vision, which enables us to drive, read, watch TV, and recognize faces. Nearly one third of seniors over the age of 75 have symptoms of AMD. The primary warning sign for the development of AMD is blurred central vision, in spite of eyeglasses. Those affected may find that they need a brighter light to read, words may become blurry, colors may appear less bright, and there may be an increased difficulty with recognizing faces. Although there is no cure for AMD, there are a variety of treatments that can slow its progression, including anti-angiogenic drugs and photodynamic laser therapy.
Glaucoma is an eye condition wherein the optic nerve that brings visual information to the brain is damaged by internal pressure on the eye. This pressure leads to gradual vision loss, pain, and ultimately nerve damage. Unlike with macular degeneration, sufferers of glaucoma develop tunnel vision as they slowly lose their peripheral sight. Unfortunately, this loss of peripheral vision can greatly affect a person’s ability to drive and live independently. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 8% of people over the age of 70 are suffering from the initial stages of glaucoma.
Signs and symptoms of glaucoma may include nausea, eye pain, the appearance of halos around lights, reddening in the eye, and sudden onset of visual disturbance. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, there are a variety of treatments available. Ask your physician about the options you may have so some discomfort can be relieved. The development of glaucoma can be slowed considerably with early detection.
As the leading cause of blindness around the world, you’re probably familiar with cataracts. This disorder is caused by a clouding of the lens of the eye due to a naturally produced protein. Although anyone can develop cataracts, they’re most commonly found in the elderly, and it’s been estimated that over half of those at 80 or older have developed cataracts.
Cataracts are often able to be detected at a glance due to a discoloration appearing over the iris or pupil of the eye. As they grow larger, they become easier to see. The development of cataracts is usually marked by blurred vision and occasionally an impaired in your ability to see colors. Other symptoms can include filmy, foggy, or fuzzy vision. Cataracts are also marked by an increase in the appearance of glare from sources of light and double vision. While cataracts aren’t painful, left alone to develop, they may lead to almost complete blindness.
Fortunately, unlike glaucoma and macular degeneration, there is a cure for cataracts. In mild cases, doctor prescribed eye drops have proven effective at treating cataracts. In more severe cases, cataract surgery can be performed, removing the clouded lens in the eye and replacing it with a clear, artificial one.
Eye Protection in the Elderly
Many common diseases of the eye provide few early symptoms, allowing them to develop for years before they’re discovered. For anyone over the age of 60, the American Optometric Association recommends an annual examination. These regular eye exams can help ensure that your loved ones are able to protect and maintain their vision well into their golden years. If nothing else, it’s important to remember that the quicker you catch an eye problem in an older loved one, the faster it can be treated, and the more likely they are to retain their vision.