As people age, they are at higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions that can cause low vision and impact quality of life. These include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. September is Healthy Aging Month and a great time to talk about preserving vision as we age.
“While many age-related eye diseases and conditions have no warning signs, they can be detected in their early stages during a comprehensive eye exam,” says Dr. Bruce Rosenthal, Chief of Low Vision Services at Lighthouse Guild. “The key to saving sight is early detection and treatment.”
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among adults over 50. It gradually destroys the macula, the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision. A variety of treatments can help reduce the risk of vision loss in people with AMD.
Cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Cataracts cause vision loss and are very common in older people. Surgery is the only effective treatment, and it is one of the most common surgeries in the United States.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that damages blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of vision loss by 95 percent.
Glaucoma can cause fluid and pressure to build up in the eye and damage the optic nerve. It first affects peripheral vision, but can lead to total vision loss without treatment.
“Normal aging of the eye does not lead to low vision. It is a result of eye diseases, injuries or both,” says Dr. Rosenthal. “Low vision symptoms include loss of central and/or peripheral vision, blurred or hazy vision or night blindness.”
“If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your ophthalmologist or optometrist who will check for, treat, or refer for any underlying conditions and advise on resources, aids and devices – including brighter lighting – to help with reading and other daily tasks,” Dr. Rosenthal explains.
Systemic health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes can affect eye health and the ability to see clearly can change frequently. “Keep your ophthalmologist informed about your health conditions and use of medications and nutritional supplements, as well as your exercise, eating, sleeping and other lifestyle choices,” Dr. Rosenthal advises.
People with a family history of conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma are at greater risk of developing these eye conditions.
Tips to Reduce Risk
In addition to regular comprehensive eye exams, which can detect problems before noticeable vision loss occurs, many lifestyle factors can play an important role in protecting vision as we age:
- Eating a balanced diet, including dark, leafy greens and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising.
- Getting enough sleep to rest and continuously lubricate the eyes.
- Quitting smoking.
- Keeping diabetes under control.
- Wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat outdoors.
- Wearing protective eyewear during vigorous activity.
- Avoiding falls with slip-proof rugs and secure railings.
- Discussing your family’s eye health history with your eye care professional.
“Prevention of vision loss across the life span can help to preserve and maintain our quality of life, especially as we get older,” Dr. Rosenthal says.
About Lighthouse Guild
Lighthouse Guild is dedicated to providing exceptional services that inspire people who are visually impaired to attain their goals. We provide coordinated care for eye health, vision rehabilitation and behavioral health as well as related services. Our podcast series, “On Tech & Vision with Dr. Cal Roberts” offers information and insights about technological innovations that are tearing down barriers for people who are blind or visually impaired. For more information, visit Lighthouseguild.org.