September is Healthy Aging Month, a month set aside to focus on the importance of prioritizing our health and well-being as we age. The American Academy of Ophthalmology celebrates Healthy Aging Month by raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of age-related vision loss and the steps to help senior adults care for their sight.
One in six Americans age 65 and older have a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. As we age, the risk of eye disease increases, yet many older adults neglect to keep up with routine eye exams that could help prevent or detect early signs of vision impairment.
Perhaps the most common cause of age-related vision loss presbyopia, which can make it difficult to see to read and perform other simple tasks. Presbyopia is not dangerous, and is typically corrected with eyeglasses or bifocals. Other eye conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration can also affect aging adults and result in vision loss.
Cataract — A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens of the eye as the eye ages. Cataract causes blurred vision, making it difficult to read, watch TV and perform common daily tasks. Cataract can also affect one’s ability to drive as the clouded lens makes it difficult to see street signs and traffic lights. One of the greatest “medical miracles” is cataract surgery, with more than two million cataract procedures safely improving the quality of life for millions of Americans every year. During cataract surgery, the natural lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens implant (IOL).
Age-Related Macular Degeneration — Macular degeneration (also known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over 65. This condition occurs when the macula—the very central part of the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision—begins to deteriorate. Advanced AMD associated with vision loss affects about 1.75 million U.S. residents. Although macular degeneration does not result in total blindness, it can cause profound visual disability. There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration, but there are treatments that may delay its progression, or improve vision. Treatments for the condition depend on the stage and form of macular degeneration.
Diabetic Eye Disease — Diabetic retinopathy, a condition caused by diabetes, occurs when the blood vessels in the back of the eye change. These vessels can weaken and leak fluid or abnormal vessels can grow on the surface of the retina, which may hemorrhage. Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in the 20-64 year age group, and is one of the most frequent causes of retinal blindness in the world. About 25 percent of diabetics have some form of diabetic retinopathy, and five percent have severe disease. Early detection is vital to prevent vision loss or blindness.
Glaucoma — Glaucoma is an eye disease usually associated with elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) inside the eye that damages the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss. It is a chronic disease that usually has no symptoms and may damage your optic nerve before you notice actual changes in your vision. Three million Americans suffer from glaucoma but only half know they have it. Again, early detection of glaucoma with a comprehensive eye exam is vital.
Preventing Age-Related Eye Conditions and Vision Loss
We cannot turn back the clock of time, but there are steps every adult can take to slow the effect of aging on our eyes. Here are a few tips to help keep your eyes healthy and preserve your vision as you age:
Maintain regular eye exams — A routine comprehensive eye exam is the only way to detect eye conditions or vision loss. Routine exams make it more likely that any eye conditions would be detected in the early stages, which could prevent severe vision loss. If you are over 40, annual eye exams are a must to prevent age-related vision loss.
Protect your eyes from the sun — UV rays emitted by the sun are extremely damaging to the eye. Sun damage to the eye may lead to cataracts or macular degeneration. To protect your eyes from the sun, wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat when you are outdoors can also help protect your eyes from the sun.
Focus on nutrition — Eating healthy foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals can help keep your eyes healthy and help prevent age-related eye conditions like macular degeneration.. Some of the essential nutrients for eye health include: vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and Omega-3 fatty acids. To ensure you are getting plenty of the necessary nutrients, eat a rainbow of fresh produce (dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, red and orange peppers, broccoli, etc), lean meat, eggs, nuts and fatty fish like salmon.
Manage high blood pressure and diabetes — According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, high blood pressure can lead to age-related macular degeneration. If you have diabetes and do not carefully manage your blood glucose levels, you may be putting yourself at risk of developing diabetic eye disease.
Don’t smoke — Smoking cigarettes reduces blood flow to the eye, which can lead to eye disease and greatly increases risk of vision loss for those already at risk of diabetic eye disease or age-related macular degeneration.
If you noticed and sudden changes in your vision, such as cloudy or blurred vision, gradual or sudden vision loss, darkness in your field of vision or the onset of floaters or flashes, contact The Eye Center, P.A. to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.