Eye health in seniors is important as normal aging brings about changes in the eyes that weaken vision. The most common causes of vision loss among aging adults are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy.
However, several conditions rarely cause vision loss, but rather create discomfort
Normal Age-Related Eye Changes and Eye Concerns for Seniors
Aging is a normal process associated with certain age-related eye problems which if not detected and treated early can result in partial or complete vision loss. 65% of those with visual impairment and 82% of those who are blind are over 50 years old.
Regular eye checkups help detect some more common eye diseases for treatment before significant damage and vision loss occurs (American Academy of Ophthalmology 2021).
Symptoms of Common Age-Related Eye Problems
Several eye problems that more frequently occur in aging can also affect anyone at any age.
As always, it is recommended that you consult your eye doctor, and get your eyes checked regularly especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below:
- Irritated red eyes may indicate Dry Eyes
- Sudden eye pain may indicate Glaucoma
- Seeing floaters may indicate Retinal Detachment
- Cloudy vision may indicate Cataracts
- Distorted central vision may be a Macular Hole
- Vision loss in the field of vision may be Macular Degeneration
- Blind spots may indicate Diabetic Retinopathy
- Tenderness at the temple may indicate Temporal Arteritis
- Red, watery eyes may be a Corneal Disease
- Seeing double may be Diplopia
Eye Health in Older Adults – Expect These Age-Related Eye Problems
Dry Eyes or Tearing
When tear glands cannot make enough tears or produce poor-quality tears to lubricate the eyes, dry eyes occur. The condition can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning or even some loss of vision.
Underlying causes and symptoms of dry eye vary, including irritated red eyes, burning sensation, sore eyes, blurred vision, gritty feeling in the eye or watery eyes due to excessive tearing,
Dry eye management and treatment include eye drops that provide relief, medications to reduce inflammation, dietary changes, lid hygiene, and in-office procedures.
On the other hand, tearing, or having too many tears, is usually caused by an over sensitivity to light, wind, or temperature changes.
Floaters or Flashers
Tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision of the eyes are called floaters. They are more noticeable in well-lit rooms or outdoors.
Floaters can become a source of concern if they are accompanied by flashes of light as this could indicate eye problems such as retinal detachment. See your eye doctor immediately.
This is the loss of the ability to see close objects or small print. The development of presbyopia is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime.
Changes may become discernible during mid-life. People with presbyopia often hold reading materials at arm’s length.
Some people get headaches or “tired eyes” while reading or doing other close work. Vision can be improved with reading glasses or multi focal lenses.
Temporal arteritis causes the arteries in the temple area of the forehead, as well as other areas of the body, to become inflamed and possibly obstructed.
It usually starts with a severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness in the temple area.
This may be accompanied by chronic fever, weakness in the shoulder or hips, and scalp tenderness.
A sudden vision loss following these symptoms is usually permanent. The condition is more frequently diagnosed in elderly women.
Importance of Eye Health in Seniors – Common Eye Diseases and Disorders
Retinal disorders could result in vision loss if the optic nerve meant to transmit information from the eye to the brain is damaged. They include Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy and Retinal Detachment.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Macular degeneration is a medical condition showing as a gradual, progressive, painless deterioration of the macula (the small area in the center of the retina that gives us our detailed vision).
It may result in blurred or no vision in the center of the visual field. In the early stages, there are often no symptoms. Over time, however, there could be a gradual worsening of vision that may affect one or both eyes.
Loss of central vision can make it difficult to recognize faces and perform detail-oriented activities such as reading, writing, and driving although the condition does not result in blindness.
Visual hallucinations may also be experienced, but do not represent a mental illness (Wikipedia).
Four risk factors we cannot control are age, race, genetics, and family history according to The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI). Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). L.G Mogk (2021)
Eye Health in Seniors – Cataracts
The lenses of a healthy eye are usually clear and flexible. With aging, they become less flexible, and cloudy areas develop to cover the entire eye lens inside your eye resulting in a condition known as a cataract.
The earliest signs of cataracts include cloudy or blurred vision, poor night vision, and colors that may not appear as vivid as before.
The risk of cataracts increases with each decade of life starting around age 40. By age 75, half of white Americans have cataracts.
By age 80, 70 percent of whites have cataracts compared with 53 percent of blacks and 61 percent of Hispanic Americans. (American Academy of Ophthalmology 2019)
Lens replacement surgery is the only way that cataracts can be removed. It involves creating a small incision through which the natural lens is removed and replaced with a new, artificial lens.
Diabetic Eye Disease (Diabetic Retinopathy)
This condition is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina among diabetics. As a result, the blood vessels will either bleed or leak fluid. If left uncontrolled, this can lead to permanent vision loss.
Sometimes, nerve damage affecting muscles that control eye movements may also be affected causing double vision and involuntary eye movements.
Control of blood sugar and cholesterol levels is recommended in the early stages of the disease, while advanced stages require laser treatment and surgery.
Eye Health in Seniors – Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a collective term for a group of related eye disorders that damages the optic nerve — responsible for transmitting information from the eye to the brain.
Most glaucoma cases involve higher-than-normal pressure levels inside the eye resulting in peripheral vision loss. There may not be symptoms or pain in the early stages. Failure to detect it early can lead to peripheral vision loss causing trouble seeing in dim light
Treatment is often directed at reducing the amount of fluid produced by the eye or increasing the amount of fluid that drains from the eye. Surgery may be recommended to increase drainage flow.
The risk is higher among African Americans and people with a family history of glaucoma.
Retinal detachment occurs when the inner and outer layers of the retina become separated. Without a retina, the eye can no longer communicate with the brain, making vision impossible.
Symptoms include sudden flashes of light, a vision that appears wavy, or a dark shadow anywhere in the field of vision.
It can be partially or fully corrected with surgery or laser treatment.
Low Vision and Eye Health in Seniors
People with eye disease symptoms due to advancing age are more likely to have low vision.
This condition makes daily tasks challenging because wearing glasses, contact lenses, and medications cannot reduce low vision symptoms.
People with low vision can lead better lives and work safely with various adaptive options.
These include spectacle-mounted magnifiers, digital desktop magnifiers, biopic telescopes, lighted handheld magnifiers, lenses that filter light, and software with text-to-speech and magnification features.
Other options are electronic devices that you can either hold in your hand or put directly on your reading material. E-Books, iPads and similar electronic devices. These can usually be adjusted to provide large dark fonts and are helpful for many people with moderate impairments.
Last Words on Eye Health in Seniors
Normal visual problems among aging seniors are of several forms and occur in varying degrees. This makes the issue of eye health in seniors more important. Frequent comprehensive eye exams help in the early detection of diseases and keep.
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References – Eye Health in Seniors
American Academy of Ophthalmology (2019) Eye Health Statistics. https://www.aao.org/newsroom/eye-health-statistics#_edn1
American Academy of Ophthalmology (2019) Cataracts. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/outreach-campaigns-and-resources/eye-health-data-and-statistics/cataract-data-and-statistics
L.G Mogk (2021) Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). https://visionaware.org/your-eye-condition/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd/risk-factors-for-amd/