As we old get older, staying healthy becomes more important. Unlike individuals in their prime, the elderly have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. There is no escaping the health effects of old age, but with proper care, much can be done to ward off the effects of conditions that appear with age.. Over time, a person’s vision can gradually decline, which is why a majority of elderly people require prescription eyeglasses to see clearly.
However, there is a fine line between normal deterioration and vision problems of a more serious variety. Understanding what eye conditions older individuals are at risk of developing and how to reduce their chances of getting them is thus very important for caretakers. Fortunately, most of these health problems can be regulated with treatment, as long as they are detected early on. If your loved one complains about his or her vision, or if you can tell that they are having a difficult time seeing well, do not hesitate to contact an eye doctor. To gain a better understanding of what to look for and what warning signs your loved one may be exhibiting, here is a short list of common geriatric eye problems and their symptoms.
Common Eye Problems in the Elderly
Cataracts – Characterized by the clouding of a person’s eye lens, cataracts is caused by the breakdown of vital proteins that help keep the lens clear. It is most commonly found in people over 45, as this when the lenses start having trouble changing shape to adjust vision for close and far-sighted objects.
Blurred vision, difficulties seeing in low light conditions, and decreased color intensity are symptoms to watch out for. Treatment options include wearing better quality eyeglasses and living and engaging in everyday activities in a well-lit environment. Surgery is the only way to cure the disease, but it is only recommended when cataracts impair the person’s ability to perform daily activities or if it causes pain.
Glaucoma – This condition is caused by high levels of fluid pressure in the eye (a result of poor tissue drainage or excessive fluid production). Glaucoma can cause irreversible damage, including blindness. Most glaucoma cases occur gradually, but signs that your loved one may have it are if they see halos around light and/or if their peripheral vision becomes worse.
Acute glaucoma is more severe and can happen suddenly. Pain, nausea and cloudy vision are the tell-tale signs. Eye medicine, in the form of drops or pills, is generally the primary course of treatment. If the condition worsens, alternative measures include laser treatment or surgery to improve the fluid-draining properties of the eyes. As with cataracts and other degenerative conditions, routine eye exams are the best form of prevention.
Macular degeneration – Also referred to as age-related macular degeneration, AMD is the leading cause of blindness and one of the top eye problems in the elderly. It occurs when the blood vessels leading to the macula (a critical component of the retina that is responsible for sharpening one’s vision and allowing us to focus on fine details) is damaged. The two types of AMD are dry and wet; the former affects nearly 90% of patients and happens when the macula blood vessels naturally wear thin. Wet AMD is characterized by weak and irregular vessel growth that leak blood and fluid in the eye, in effect causing vision loss and blindness.
The causes of AMD are not known, but it is more common in caucasians, people who smoke cigarettes, women and people who are overweight. Though the effects of macular degeneration cannot be reversed, a healthy diet supplemented with vitamins, alongside foods and beverages rich in antioxidants can prevent it from worsening. Prescription lenses and surgery are used to help patients see more clearly and to correct issues with poorly functioning blood vessels in the macula.
As far as geriatric eye problems go, these are among the most common and most damaging. Make sure your loved one visits their eye doctor regularly and notify the doctor of any vision changes they may be experiencing.
When did you or your loved one start getting regular eye check-ups? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
For more information, please review our Low Vision & Eye Problem Resources.