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Age-Related Vision Changes for Seniors

Just as our bodies age and physical changes occur, as our eyes age they begin to change, too.

Senior citizens can anticipate some vision and eye health changes, especially around age 60. Many are normal age-related vision changes and do not indicate disease. There are other changes that are categorized as diseases and should be immediately addressed by an eye doctor. A synopsis of the most common age-related eye concerns is listed here.

Age-Related Vision Changes

Presbyopia

One vision change many people over the age of 40 can likely relate to is presbyopia. This is the inability to focus on things when they are up close. Presbyopia does get worse with age and occurs because of a loss of elasticity of the lens inside your eye. This causes the lens to harden. If you have begun to notice that you have to hold reading material further away in order to focus on it, this is likely the onset of presbyopia. You may also experience headaches or eye fatigue.

The effects of presbyopia can be compensated for by the use of reading glasses or special contact lenses. However, there may come a point when corrective surgery is needed. Your eye doctor can do an eye exam to determine if corrective surgery is the right course of action to improve your vision.

Cataracts

Cataracts are extremely common in older people. The Mayo Clinic estimates that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts. They develop when proteins build up in your eye's lens, causing vision to be cloudy. This accumulation of protein blocks light from passing into your eye and will affect your vision. While congenital cataracts can occur at birth, most cataracts are age-related and especially affect persons beginning at age 60. They can cause blindness over an extended period of time.

Cataract surgery is very common and a wonderful option to help restore vision. It is recommended to have cataract surgery early before vision is comprised too much from the protein buildup.

Age-Related Eye Diseases

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease that is also related to aging. Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve usually because of too much pressure in the eyes. A healthy optic nerve is crucial to our ability to see; it sends signals to the brain which in turn converts that information into the images we see.

Pressure in the eye builds up when a channel in our eye (the drainage angle) stops working properly. This channel carries fluids that nourish the bathe the tissues in our eyes. When the drainage angle is clogged or not functioning, the fluid backs up and causes the pressure build.

While related to age, unlike cataracts or presbyopia, glaucoma is an eye disease. Risk factors include being African-American or Hispanic, having heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure or additional problems with your optic nerve. The use of steroid eye drops can also contribute to glaucoma.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one cause of irreversible vision loss or blindness for seniors. AMD occurs when a central portion of the eye's retina (the macula) deteriorates. It can be hereditary, but is also related to smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

There are two forms of AMD: wet and dry. Most seniors suffer from dry AMD, which is characterized by yellow deposits in the macula. A small number of these deposits may not cause any vision changes, but as they grow in size or increase in number, vision will be noticeably affected. Muscle atrophy can occur and a senior can develop blind spots in the center of their vision.

Wet AMD is the presence of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels leak fluid and blood into the retina, which makes a senior's vision distorted, causes blind spots and loss of central vision.

Nutritional Health for Eyes

You have likely heard that carrots are good for your eyesight, and it is very true! Carrots contain B-Carotene, which is metabolized into Vitamin A and is a critical vitamin for proper retinal development. It is also true that our eyes, when aided by these nutrients, can increase their night-vision potential. These vitamins are especially important in reducing the risk of AMD.

Other foods that are important for maintaining healthy eyes and reducing the risk of eye diseases include:

  • Salmon and Tuna
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Green, leafy vegetables (spinach and kale)
  • Non-meat protein sources (eggs, nuts and beans)
  • Whole grains (quinoa and brown rice)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Lean beef

Regular visits to your eye doctor should be part of your annual check-ups. As you age, it is especially important to communicate any changes in vision. While some changes in your eyesight are a natural part of aging, vision changes can indicate an eye disease and should not be ignored.

Senior Living: Healthy for Life
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Tuesday, 10 December 2019

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