Many seniors assume that poor vision is simply a sign of getting older, but often symptoms may be the sign of a more serious, treatable condition. You can maintain vision quality if you can identify symptoms early on, preventing or stopping progression. Understanding some of the underlying causes can be the key to avoiding these diseases.
Three Common Diseases
The most common vision-related diseases found in seniors are Cataracts, Macular Degeneration, and Glaucoma. Each disease expresses a different set of effects and symptoms, making knowledge of their differences an important part of determining the best treatment.
Modern ophthalmologists describe glaucoma as a neurological disorder stemming from nerve cell degeneration in the brain instead of defining it as disease of the eye. Formerly, treatment focused on lowering the pressure in the eye, since high pressures are commonly associated with damage done by the disease.
Glaucoma may cause blindness without treatment. Many patients are initially unaware that they suffer from the disease – hard to recognize symptoms and slow progression make it hard for patients to identify the condition. Damage is initially restricted to peripheral vision for most patients, and many patients don’t even realize they’ve lost vision. Treatments can include eye drops or surgery to improve circulation in the eye. There are also experimental options being exercised by some physicians.
Repetitive damage to the macula, a tiny area near the center of the retina, reduces central vision and makes it hard to read fine print or focus on detailed work. In patients over 50, this disease is called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD presents in two forms, often called “dry” or “wet”. The dry form usually progresses very gradually over several years. About 10% of dry cases will progress to the wet form, which is more aggressive version and involves blood and fluid leaking from the macula. The wet form can cause vision loss and often progresses rapidly, within weeks or months.
No cure exists for AMD, but antibody therapies and high potency antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended by physicians and the National Eye Institute. Many patients with advanced AMD find these treatments helpful.
Near the age of 40, protein clumps may develop in the lens of the eye, leaving the lens cloudy. Vision deterioration from cataracts cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses – once a cataract has formed, it must be removed surgically. The procedure is usually painless. Your doctor will “vacuum” the clumped particles before inserting an artificial lens. Patients are usually given a choice of monofocal or premium lenses, and often post-surgical vision is often dramatically better.
Care for Your Eyes
Many of the diseases that can cause poor vision for seniors are difficult to treat once symptoms are apparent, but there are things you can do to prevent vision-related diseases before symptoms occur:
- Don’t Smoke
Smokers are especially prone to vision related conditions and often suffer from early onset cataracts. Smokers also suffer more often from age-related macular degeneration than non-smokers.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Include spinach, walnuts, salmon, berries, and other foods that have high antioxidant levels in your diet. They can prevent and slow the progression of eye diseases.
Block the Sun
Protect your eyes from the sun and from UV rays to avoid developing cataracts and prevent damage to the retina than can case AMD.
Visit Your Optometrist
Set a consistent schedule with your optometrist. While in your 40s, visit your doctor every 2-4 years; seniors over 55 should plan for an examination every 1-3 years; some seniors may need to visit more often after age 65.
Keep an eye on your vision and watch out for symptoms – keep your eyes healthy for as long as possible!