BY DAVID BUICE
We all know that as the years pass, our bodies change and adapt, and our eyes are very much a part of this process. During our earliest years, changes in our vision are generally positive. We develop visual acuity, allowing us to change our focus quickly or improve eye-hand coordination that enables us to draw objects or sink that winning basket as the game clock expires.
Unfortunately, just as our physical strength tends to lessen over the years, our eyes also suffer age-related changes, especially after age 60. Some of these are perfectly normal and don’t indicate the onset of any kind of eye disease. Others, however, are more serious and should not be ignored.
Age-related Eye Conditions
The following are some of the more common vision problems associated with aging.
Presbyopia – Commonly known as far-sightedness, this condition is caused by a loss of elasticity of the eye’s lens. Consequently, you have more difficulty focusing on objects up close, such as words on the printed page or a cell phone screen. Eventually, you will probably need reading glasses, bifocal glasses, or contact lenses. And as you age, you’ll possibly have to have your prescription changed more frequently.
Cataracts – These are cloudy areas in the lens of your eyes, causing hazy or blurred vision. Some stay small and don’t change your vision much, while others grow much larger over time, creating vision issues. Cataract surgery can restore clear vision and is a safe and painless procedure.
Glaucoma – This condition is usually caused by too much fluid pressure inside the eye and can lead to vision loss and blindness if not treated. Unfortunately, glaucoma often has no symptoms or pain, but you can protect your vision with an annual dilated eye exam. Glaucoma can be treated with prescription eye drops, lasers, or surgery.
Age-related macular degeneration – AMD can harm the sharp central vision essential for doing things like driving and reading. It’s the leading cause of blindness among seniors, and currently, approximately two million Americans suffer from AMD. The number is expected to double by 2050 as our population ages.
Diabetic retinopathy – This may occur if you have diabetes and often has no early warning signs. Keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control can prevent it or control it in its early stage.
The National Institute on Aging recommends getting professional help immediately if you:
- Suddenly can’t see or everything is blurry
- See many new floaters — tiny specks or “cobwebs” floating across your vision — or flashes of light
- Have eye pain
- Experience double vision
- Have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid
Tips for Preserving Your Vision
While aging is inevitable, we can do things to help preserve our vision. Here are tips from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Cleveland Clinic to help protect your eyesight as the years accumulate.
- Visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist for a yearly eye exam, including pupil dilation.
- Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes against harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes ample quantities of green leafy vegetables high in antioxidants and salmon, tuna, and sardines rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Don’t like fish? Then nibble on nuts, legumes, or seeds.
- Exercise. Something as simple as a brisk 20-minute walk four times a week can help preserve your vision.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly to allow your eyes to rest and rehydrate.
- Don’t smoke. Smokers are three times more likely to develop cataracts and twice as likely to develop AMD as nonsmokers.