Some changes to our vision are normal as we get older; however, vision loss and blindness are not part of aging. According to the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), the most common natural aging eye problems include difficulty seeing objects clearly, trouble distinguishing colors or shapes, and the need for more light to see. Glasses, corrective lenses, or improved lighting usually remedy these issues. But, older people need to be vigilant in understanding the difference between normal vision changes and indications of a more serious problem.
The most common eye diseases or conditions for older Americans are age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, glaucoma, and low vision. As people age, the risk for developing these conditions increases. The NEHEP has reported that the number of Americans living with age-related eye diseases will double by 2050. To preserve their vision, it is important that older people educate themselves about the following common conditions.
- Age- Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the gradual loss of sharp, central vision. According to the National Eye Institute, it is the leading cause of vision loss for people age 60 and older. There are two forms: Dry AMD and Wet AMD. Dry AMD is the degeneration of light-sensitive cells in the macula (a pigmented area near center of eye). Wet AMD is when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina grow under the macula. The main early system is blurred vision. For example, straight lines usually appear crooked for wet AMD sufferers.
- A Cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye and can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms can include blurry vision, colors appearing faded, sensitivity to light, double vision, and decreased ability to see at night.
- Diabetic Retinopathy is a diabetes complication caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. It causes mild vision problems, but can lead to blindness. There are no initial symptoms in the early stages. However latter stage symptoms include seeing spots in vision, blurred vision, and dark areas of vision.
- Dry Eye happens when the amount and/or quality of the eye’s moisture does not provide enough lubrication. Symptoms include scratchy eyes, a stinging or burning sensation, excessive tearing, and discharge.
- Glaucoma is caused by the fluid pressure of the eye rising slowly and damaging the optic nerve. It can occur in one or both eyes and has no initial symptoms in the early stages. However, if left untreated, it can cause the loss of peripheral and central vision.
- Low Vision is most common for people age 65 and older and can be caused by a number of eye diseases and health conditions. It is the inability to see adequately despite glasses, corrective lenses, medication or surgical procedures. Symptoms include difficulty recognizing faces, reading, matching colors, and dim vision.
What can you do?
In addition to being able to recognize a serious vision problem, it is important to maintain good overall health to avoid developing risk factors linked to the most common eye diseases and conditions. For example, AMD risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking. It is also vital to be aware of the risks associated with family history and ethnicity. Eye diseases like AMD and glaucoma tend to run in families and are more prevalent or severe among certain ethnic groups. Caucasians are more likely to lose their vision to AMD, while African Americans 40 and older are more at risk of developing glaucoma.
Whether you have risk factors or not, the most crucial part of maintaining vision health for people over 50 is to have a dilated eye exam every year. A dilated exam helps eye care professionals to see inside the eye to check on the condition of critical tissues that aid vision such as the macula and retina. Most eye diseases that impact older people have few or no early warning signs, but an annual dilated eye exam can help detect eye diseases or problems before they can cause vision loss or blindness. To find out more about getting an eye care professional’s help, click here.