Is vision loss a normal part of advancing age? Yes, studies say. Medical research shows approximately one in three elderly persons have some form of a vision impairing eye condition by age 65.
Although eyesight is one of the first senses to decline, some age-related changes go beyond what’s to be expected and indicate a serious eye disease. While having trouble viewing objects up close and struggling to see at night are normal and the result of anatomical eye changes, they do not drastically limit a person’s ability to live independently.
Here are four eye diseases that commonly plague older adults:
- Cataracts - When an elderly person complains of clouded vision, the culprit is cataracts – clumps of naturally occurring proteins that blur vision. The condition occurs in more than half of seniors over age 80. While not painful, cataracts can not only impair color perception and produce glare, the condition may also progress to full blindness, preventing a senior from living independently. Mild cataracts can be treated with medicated eye drops, however, advanced cataracts which impair daily living require surgery to be removed.
- Glaucoma - Glaucoma is the result of high pressure in the eye cavity that causes optic nerve damage, resulting in pain and vision loss mainly to peripheral or side vision. Close to 10% of seniors have at least the beginning stages of glaucoma by age 70. The condition often sneaks up – there may not be any symptoms or complaints until the nerve damage has been done. While the disorder has no cure, a range of pharmaceutical and surgical treatments exists to slow the progression of glaucoma and relieve discomfort associated with this eye disease.
- Diabetic retinopathy - Excess blood sugar can cause damage throughout the body, including the eyes. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the circulatory system of the eyes, causing the tiny blood vessels around the retina to leak and the retinal tissue to swell. Prolonged periods of high glucose level can cause the lens to swell and blur distance vision, which dissipates when blood sugar is brought under control. Other symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include seeing spots, blurred vision, and having a dark spot in the center of vision. Unfortunately many of these symptoms do not appear until the condition has progressed. Depending on disease stage, a number of treatments exist for diabetic retinopathy including medication injections and surgical procedures.
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) - AMD destroys sharp, central vision making it nearly impossible for afflicted seniors to accomplish daily tasks such as reading, writing, or driving. This is a progressive disease that attacks the most vital area of the retina, the macula, which controls fine details in center vision. The first sign of the disease may appear as a complaint about blind spots in objects they are looking at. Because AMD impacts a senior’s ability to judge their surroundings, it place elderly at risk for driving accidents, medication mistakes, and falls. There is no way to reverse the condition, however, medications can control and slow the progression. Laser surgery and telescopic goggles can also help.
Because many age-related eye disease do not have warning signs or symptoms, the best defense eye disease is a visit to the ophthalmologist. A physician can provide your client or aging parent with a comprehensive dilated exam to reveal abnormalities before vision loss or blindness occurs.