Eye Care for Older Adults: Protecting Your Vision

A recent survey by the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University showed the top three diseases Americans fear the most are Alzheimer’s, blindness, and cancer. Sadly, 50,000 people in the U.S. lose their sight every year, yet nearly half of eye diseases are treatable or preventable. Whether you are suffering from presbyopia (age-related farsightedness) or a more serious age-related eye condition, knowledge is key. Recognizing the possible signs of eye disease, following simple tips, and regular eye exams are important elements of good eye care as you age.

Disease and Injury Facts, Stats and Tips

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans age 50 and older. Side vision is not affected, but it is difficult to conduct daily tasks like driving or reading because the disease impairs central vision. About 80% of people with AMD have the dry form, which is easier to treat. In wet AMD, vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula and more rapid vision loss.

Tips: The AREDS trial found a supplement containing 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IUs vitamin E, 15 mg beta-carotene, 80 mg zinc (zinc oxide), and 2 mg copper (cupric oxide) reduced the risk of AMD-related vision loss. Supplements are widely available and recommended to slow disease progression.

Eat a healthy diet with plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people age 40 and older, affecting an estimated 24.4 million Americans in that age group. A cataract is a clouding of the natural eye lens, which sits behind the iris and pupil. During surgery, the clouded lens is replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). Currently, there are several different lens options to choose from, some of which can correct other vision issues. More than 3 million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. every year and the success rate is 98%, but there is a small risk of retinal detachment and a serious eye infection called endophthalmitis.

Tips: Exposure to ultraviolet light is a risk factor for cataracts. Wear a brimmed hat and sunglasses that provide 100% protection from both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Quit smoking because smokers have double the risk of getting cataracts and four times the risk of developing AMD.

Diabetic macular edema occurs when damaged blood vessels leak fluid into the retina, causing swelling. Prolonged damage to the small blood vessels in the retina causes a decrease in circulation to the retina and macula. This leads to formation of new abnormal blood vessels and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes currently impacts more than 29 million Americans and about half of people with diabetes develop diabetic retinopathy. This eye disease affects people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.

Tips: High sugar intake is linked to diabetes and nearly all eye conditions. Limit sugar intake and maintain healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Exercise regularly and try to maintain a healthy weight, because obesity is the primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Dry eye is caused by a reduction in natural tears and is a common problem, especially in older adults. About 3.2 million women and 1.68 million men age 50 and older are affected by dry eye syndrome.

Tips: Use artificial or homeopathic replacement tears to soothe the irritating symptoms associated with dry eye.

Use a humidifier in winter months or arid climates.

Drink adequate water and limit your intake of sugar and coffee to prevent dehydration.

Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve and impacts more than 3 million Americans, with 2.7 million of those age 40 and older. About half of all people with glaucoma aren’t aware they have the disease because the symptoms are subtle in the beginning. That’s why the disease is often referred to as the sneak thief of sight. In primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma, fluid doesn’t drain efficiently from the eyes, causing pressure to build up. Acute angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris is too close to the drainage angle in the eye, thereby causing blockage and a quick rise in eye pressure.

Tip: Be aware of personal risk factors since glaucoma has a strong genetic basis.

Nearly 50,000 adults age 50 and older were treated at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2016 for eye injuries. A quick look at some of these cases reveals the wide range of products involved in these incidents. Everything from power tools and tennis strings to pillowcases and bleaches led to injuries requiring medical attention.

Tip: Wear safety goggles when working with power tools, hazardous chemicals and for sports like skiing.

In addition to the above tips, if you are 65 and older, get a complete, dilated eye exam every year or every other year. Be aware of age-related changes and if you notice anything obvious, don’t wait – schedule an eye exam as soon as possible.