If not detected and treated early, vision problems in the elderly could lead to partial or complete vision loss. In fact, statistics reveal that 65% of those with visual impairment and 82% of those who are blind are over 50 years old.
To help you steer clear of serious eye problems later in life, below is a list of eye diseases that you need to watch out for as you age, plus information on diagnostic and treatment options.
Vision Problems in the Elderly
1. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration primarily affects the macula — a tiny portion found at the center of the retina and responsible for sharp central vision.
If you have AMD, you will have difficulties performing detail-oriented tasks such as reading, writing, driving, and identifying different shades of colors. Distorted, fuzzy, or shadowy central vision is an early sign of AMD.
In a major clinical study called The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) done by the National Eye Institute (NEI), four factors stood out in increasing AMD risk:
- Race (Caucasian)
- Family history
- History of smoking
AMD comes in two types — dry and wet. Each type requires different treatment approaches.
It’s possible to detect early signs of AMD and slow down its progression through a comprehensive retinal exam.
In a healthy eye, the lenses are primarily crystal clear and flexible. As you age, the lenses become less flexible, and cloudy areas typically cover the entire lens inside your eye. This is what happens when you develop cataracts.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that half of Americans will develop cataracts by age 75. The earliest signs of cataracts include cloudy or blurred vision, poor night vision, and looking at colors that may not appear as vivid as they once did.
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.
3. Diabetic Eye Disease
Also known as diabetic retinopathy, diabetic eye disease arises from the damage of 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.
Nerve damage affecting muscles that control eye movements may be present, too. Symptoms may include double vision and involuntary eye movements.
If you have an early-stage diabetic eye disease, you will be asked to control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Advanced stages require laser treatment and vitrectomy surgery.
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.
Glaucoma can either be open-angle or narrow-angle. Often, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms and vision stays normal.
The majority of glaucoma cases involve higher-than-normal pressure levels inside the eye resulting in peripheral vision loss. Trouble seeing in dim light and difficulties navigating while walking are late symptoms of peripheral vision loss.
Glaucoma is diagnosed through a comprehensive dilated exam. Treatment is often aimed at reducing the amount of fluid produced by the eye or increasing the amount of fluid that drains from the eye. Glaucoma surgery may be recommended to increase drainage flow.
Besides aging, glaucoma risk is high among African-Americans and people with a family history of glaucoma.
5. Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is a result of a chronic lack of sufficient moisture (oil, water, or mucus) on the eye’s surface. This lack of moisture and lubrication is often a result of the following:
- Insufficient production of tears
- Poor tear quality
Underlying causes and symptoms of dry eye syndrome can vary. The following are the most common symptoms:
- Burning sensation
- Gritty or sandy feeling in the eye
- Sore eyes
- Blurred vision
- Watery eyes due to excessive tearing
Dry eye management and treatment options include eye drops that provide relief, medications to reduce inflammation, dietary changes, lid hygiene, and in-office procedures.
6. Low Vision
People with eye disease symptoms due to advancing age are more likely to have low vision. This condition makes daily tasks difficult and challenging because even wearing glasses, contact lenses, and medications cannot reduce low vision symptoms.
People with low vision can lead better lives and work safely with rehabilitation options such as:
- Spectacle-mounted magnifiers
- Lighted handheld magnifiers
- Digital desktop magnifiers
- Bioptic telescopes
- Software with text-to-speech and magnification features
Don’t Live with Age-related Vision Loss
Visual impairment among aging individuals takes many forms and could exist in varying degrees. In most cases, your visual acuity score alone is not a good predictor of age-related vision problems. A comprehensive eye exam by knowledgeable and caring eye care professionals is crucial to keep your eyes functioning at their optimum level throughout your golden years.
Don’t believe that getting old translates to vision loss? Living with healthier eyesight into your golden years is possible if you take proactive steps towards accomplishing this goal.