Many of us know that person—the older adult who has to brag that his or her vision is still perfect, without surgery, glasses or contact lenses. Well, OK, they might need readers, but they can still read that street sign way down there. Yep, 20/20, still going strong.
However, that person, free of any vision glitches, doesn’t describe most older adults (and may not actually be true for that bragging friend).
With age, a lot of vision-related issues ‘’can sneak up on you,” says Natasha Herz, MD, an ophthalmologist in Rockville, MD, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). The list of what might go wrong with your eyes – no lie – is long, but there are bright spots. Regular checkups can detect many conditions early and treatments keep improving.
Eye Care Basics
So how to keep your vision and your eye health strong?
“Most important is a regular eye exam,” Herz says. As a rough guideline, adults need a comprehensive eye exam every 2-3 years in their 50s (unless they have issues that warrant closer attention). By age 60, she says, annual exams are needed, even if you think you’re seeing fine and have no complaints.
Eye Conditions to Watch for
Cataracts are a very common concern—20.5 million Americans over age 40 have a cataract in one or both eyes. It’s a clouding of the eye’s lens, leading to trouble seeing at night, difficulty distinguishing colors and the appearance of halos around lights. The fix is cataract surgery, removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear, artificial lens, called an intraocular lens.
One recent improvement, Herz says, are better results with the multifocal intraocular lens, which could mean you can ditch glasses and contacts altogether. Previously, doctors were concerned about the multifocal lens’ lack of an acceptable “intermediate” vision range, but that issue has been remedied, she says. Another surgery option: monovision—with one intraocular lens corrected for distance vision, the other for near vision. Yet another choice: Both lens correct for distance vision and readers are used for close up work.
Glaucoma, a condition of increased pressure within the eye that damages the optic nerve, is actually a group of diseases, according to the CDC, and can threaten vision. About 3 million Americans have it. African Americans, people with diabetes or those with a family history are at higher than average risk. Treatment can include eye drops, oral medicine, surgery or a combination. “It’s very treatable if you catch it early,” Herz says.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the retina’s macula, which processes central vision, or what you see in front of you. Your eye doctor can pick this up during exams. Dry AMD, the more common form, has no treatment. Treatments for wet AMD include laser therapy and medication.
Want to Ditch Your Eyeglasses?
For those who have ditched glasses in favor of contact lenses, but balk at contact lens prices, it’s crucial to know The Contact Lens Rule, which spells out what contact lens prescribers and sellers need to do under the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act. You don’t need to read the whole rule, although the link is here, to get the gist: You have the right to shop around, prescription in hand, to find better prices.
And for people who think their readers scream “old,” there are new eye drops—kind of ‘’liquid readers.” Called Vuity, that “work by the pinhole effect,” Herz says. The drops “constrict the pupil but not too small. It helps you focus up close.” Herz tells patients that the drops may last about 6 hours after applying them, and they work best on those with just the beginning stages of presbyopia—the age-related vision change that makes menu-reading a challenge. One glitch: insurance does not cover, and a bottle, which lasts about a month with daily use, Herz says, will cost around $80.
Another option for vision correction, of course, is LASIK surgery, which changes the shape of the cornea (the eye’s clear covering) to correct vision. The FDA spells out the procedure, with pros and cons.
An Eye Diet?
Is there an eye diet? What about taking nutritional supplements to improve eye health? Herz points to research on nutritional supplements for those with age-related macular degeneration. Some research suggests supplements may help people at risk for developing advanced macular degeneration, according to the AAO. Herz points out that eating a healthy diet, full of dark, leafy greens like spinach, as well as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, can also benefit eye health. Here’s a list of eye health-friendly vitamins, according to the AAO.
Footing the Bill: If the cost of eye exams is the issue, you can see if you qualify for the American Academy of Opthalmalogy program Eyecare America.
What about you? Do you have a tip about eye health? Are your eyeglasses a fashion statement you’d never give up? Let us know in the comments!
Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Practical Pain Management, Psycom.net and other sites. She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.
Photo (top): Courtesy of National Eye Institute.
Doheny photo: Shaun Newton
This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency call 911 immediately.