How Age Affects Your Vision
Just as our bodies age and physical changes occur, our eyes begin to change too. Senior citizens can anticipate vision and eye health changes, especially around age 60. Many are normal age-related vision changes and do not indicate disease. Other changes 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
One vision change many people over the age of 40 experience is presbyopia. This is the inability to focus on things when they are up close. Presbyopia worsens with age and occurs due to a loss of elasticity of the lens inside your eye, causing the glass to harden. If you have started to notice that you have to hold reading materials further away to focus on it, this is likely the onset of presbyopia. You may also experience headaches or eye fatigue.
Using reading glasses or special contact lenses can help reduce the symptoms of presbyopia. However, there may come a point when corrective surgery is needed. Your eye doctor can perform an eye exam to determine if corrective surgery is the right course of action for you.
Cataracts are prevalent 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. This accumulation of protein blocks light from passing into your eye and causes cloudy vision. While congenital cataracts can occur at birth, most cataracts are age-related and primarily affect people over the age of 60. Cataracts can cause blindness over an extended period of time if not treated. 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 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 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 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, high blood pressure, or additional problems with your optic nerve. The use of steroid eye drops can also contribute to glaucoma.
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 also 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, distorting a senior's vision and causing blind spots and loss of central sight.
Nutritional Health for Eyes
You have likely heard that carrots are good for your eyesight, and it's 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.