Keeping Your Eyes and Vision Healthy as You Age

Home » Keeping Your Eyes and Vision Healthy as You Age » Eye Care » Keeping Your Eyes and Vision Healthy as You Age

Yes, it is true that the body naturally degenerates some as we age. However, this need not be as devastating as it is often presented to be. The truth is, with the right habits and knowledge, we can live active, full, and vibrant lives well into our senior years. Of course, health care is central to that vitality and our mobility and sight are key components of good health and daily living. Vision Loss For the purposes of this piece, we will be taking a closer look at our eyes, including the conditions that can affect them as we approach and live through our senior years, as well as how we can take the best care of our eyes so we can continue to comfortably and independently engage with the world around us.Yes, it is true that the body naturally degenerates some as we age. However, this need not be as devastating as it is often presented to be. The truth is, with the right habits and knowledge, we can live active, full, and vibrant lives well into our senior years. Of course, health care is central to that vitality and our mobility and sight are key components of good health and daily living. For the purposes of this piece, we will be taking a closer look at our eyes, including the conditions that can affect them as we approach and live through our senior years, as well as how we can take the best care of our eyes so we can continue to comfortably and independently engage with the world around us.

Seeing Clearly Until We Don’t

For most of us, 20/20 vision and the general good health of our eyes is something we take for granted in our youth and sometimes even middle life. As we continue to age, however, the condition of our eyes can deteriorate significantly as do so many of our other faculties. If we are not careful, soon enough, the vision we took for granted becomes a faded memory. Still, the more we are armed with information, the better the position we are in to take the best possible care of our eyes and to ensure that our eyes remain healthy as possible as we age.

First Things First: Knowledge Is Power

The adage is as true in our senior years as it was in our youth – knowledge is power and ignorance is not bliss. What you do not know can harm you, but what you do know can help you. As we learn more about our eyes and what can happen to them as we age, we are better able to treat them well and preserve our sight. Some of the common conditions of the eyes to be expected during aging include Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Glaucoma, Dry Eye, and Diabetic Eye Disease. We will take a closer look at each condition by assessing the causes, symptoms, and treatments of each in the section below.

5 Conditions of the Eyes to Start Thinking About As You Age.

Macular Degeneration

One of the most common eyes conditions associated with aging, Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among aging Americans and occurs when the Macular (the center of the eye) deteriorates to the point of becoming blocked – resulting in a blurry vision (sometimes referred to as a blind spot) in the center of the eye. Persons with Macular Degeneration do not usually experience complete blindness. However, they may find it increasingly difficult to read, drive, recognize the faces of loved ones, and perform everyday tasks. Parts of the eye

Causes and Symptoms

This condition typically occurs in older adults, and genetic factors and bad lifestyle habits like smoking play a role in the onset of the condition. Symptoms of Macular Degeneration include:
– Distorted vision evidenced by straight lines appearing wavy and some parts of the grid disappearing altogether
– Slow return to normal vision after exposure to bright light(s)
– Being unable to properly differentiate color due to a reduction in contrast sensitivity
– Central vision is significantly deteriorated while peripheral vision stays intact

 Detection and Treatment:

There are no signs or symptoms in the early stages of the condition. Instead, one’s vision gets gradually worse as time progresses. The condition may affect both or one of the eyes. Currently, there are no treatment options or cure that can help restore vision already lost. Instead, there are treatments such as anti-VEGF medication (that is injected into the eye), photodynamic therapy, and laser coagulation that can be used to slow the deterioration of the eyes. As far as prevention of the condition is concerned, healthy habits such as not smoking, eating well, and exercising regularly all prove to be useful.

Diabetic Eye Diseases

Diabetic Eye Diseases is the name given to diseases of the eyes that stem from having Diabetes or affects those who have Diabetes. As such, there are different kinds of Diabetic Eye Diseases, all of which have the potential to cause full blindness or otherwise significant vision loss. One of the most common kinds of Diabetic Eye Disease is called Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetic Retinopathy damages the retina, resulting in vision loss and impairment. Diabetic Macular Edema (DME) is another kind that results from having Diabetic Retinopathy. DME refers to the swelling in the Macular (an area in the center of the retina located at the back of the eyes).  Diabetic Eye Diseases can happen at any age and therefore can occur before you get to your senior years.

Causes and Symptoms

Diabetic Retinopathy occurs when the retina (located at the back of the eyes) become damaged by blood vessels in the retina to bleed or leak fluid, thereby distorting vision and in some cases causing full blindness. DME is caused when the buildup of fluid in the retina that causes Diabetic Retinopathy builds up in the Macula region of the retina. DME can happen at any stage of Diabetic Retinopathy but is most common at the worst stages of the disease. The longer a person has Diabetes type 1 or 2, the greater the chance of contracting one of these conditions. Glaucoma and Cataracts can result from living with Diabetes.
Some of the symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy and DME include seeing floating spots which sometimes clear on their own. However, if it does not and the disease progresses undetected, blurred vision becomes the major symptom. If you have Diabetes and are experiencing blurred vision, then it is important to get tested.

Detection and Treatment

Both Diabetic Retinopathy and DME are detected using a dilated eye exam which includes an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), Pupil Dilation, Tonometry, and Visual Acuity Testing. The combination of each method results in a comprehensive exam that allows the doctor to check for a range of symptoms on the retina like leaking blood vessels, damage to nerve tissue, any swelling in the Macula, changes in the lens and damage to nerve tissue.
Once detected, DME can be treated using:• Corticosteroids being injected directly into the eye,• In focal Macular laser surgery, or • Anti-VEG Injection Therapy.

There are also different kinds of treatments available for Diabetic Retinopathy depending on the severity of the condition. For example, surgically removing the vitreous gel located in the center of the eyes (the procedure known as a Vitrectomy) is used to treat the severe bleeding into the Vitreous caused by the condition.

Cataracts

Cataracts is the name used to describe when the eyes’ lens is cloudy. They tend to occur as people age, however, they can occur at an earlier age for those who have Diabetes. Also, persons with Diabetes are 2 to 5 times more likely than those without the condition to contract cataracts. By the time they get to 80 years, about 50% of Americans will either have Cataracts or have already had them removed by surgery. Like many other conditions of the eyes, Cataracts can occur in either one or both of the eyes. They can also increase in size, or grow slowly. As they grow, vision will get worse. Four types of cataract are Secondary cataract, Traumatic cataract, Congenital cataract, and Radiation cataract.

Causes and Symptoms

The lens of the eyes lie behind the pupil and the iris and behaves in a similar manner to a camera lens. The lens focuses light on the retina so that an image is recorded and adjusts the focus to near and far so we get to see. Importantly, the lens is made up of protein and water. Cataracts generally occur when the protein clumps and clouds the lens reducing the amount of light that gets to the retina – and therefore the quality of the image that the eyes see. Cataracts can form after undergoing other kinds of eye surgery (secondary cataract), having an injury to the eye (traumatic cataract), being born with them or developing them after childhood (congenital cataract) or developing after radiation exposure (radiation cataract).

Due to the fact that Cataracts cloud the lens of the eyes, one of the symptoms of the condition is increasingly dull and blurry vision. The clear lens become brownish/yellowish in color with age and vision may take on this said discoloration. Other symptoms include:• Faded color• Seeing a halo around bright lights and a constant glare• Having poor night vision• Having double vision in one eye• Needing frequent prescription changes for prescribed contact lenses or eyeglasses.

Detection and Treatment

As is the case with Diabetic Eye Disease, a comprehensive eye exam is needed to detect the presence of cataracts. This comprehensive eye examination includes a visual acuity test, a dilated eye exam, and using a tonometry. Once detected, a cataract can be treated in several different ways depending on the size of the cataract and the kind. For example, in the early stages, cataracts can be improved using anti-glare sunglasses, brighter lighting, and new eyeglasses. Should these options be ineffective, surgery to remove the cloudy lens to replace it with an artificial lens is the next step. As a rule, cataracts should only be removed when loss of vision begins interfering with daily activities like driving, reading, or watching television.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that damages the nerve fibers that connect the eyes to the brain. This bundle of nerve fiber is known as the optic nerve. There are various types of glaucoma. When left untreated, Glaucoma can result in irreversible damage to the optic nerve. Unsurprisingly, Diabetes can significantly increase the risk of glaucoma-causing it to occur earlier and more intensely.

Older woman beginning to suffer from glaucoma

Causes and Symptoms

Glaucoma has many causes, the most common of which is elevated eye pressure. That is, the eye produces a fluid known as the aqueous, and that fluid must drain from the eyes in order to maintain healthy eye pressure. Once this is affected and the eye pressure becomes elevated, one can develop Glaucoma.

Detection and Treatment

Admittedly, there is usually no noticeable symptoms for Glaucoma at the onset making it difficult to detect before the condition progresses. However, a comprehensive dilated eye exam can be used to detect early changes in the optic nerve and is consequently a good exam to help detect Glaucoma in the early stages. As we age and are consequently at a higher risk for Glaucoma, it is recommended that one does a comprehensive dilated exam every one to two years. This exam is especially important if you also have other risk factors for Diabetes.

Once detected, glaucoma can be treated using a variety of different methods including pills, eye drops, laser or traditional surgery. Depending on the individual case, a combination of these methods can be used to treat the conditions. As is the case with all eye conditions, any vision loss stemming from Glaucoma is irreversible.

Dry Eye

Dry Eye is a condition that is as the name suggests – a lack of sufficient lubrication in the eyes. It occurs when the quantity or quality of the tears in the eyes’ tear film is inadequate for keeping the eyes lubricated. In normal eyes, blinking cause tears to spread across the cornea of the eyes (the front surface), providing lubrication and reducing the risk of infection while protecting vision. Dry Eye is often chronically common among older adults.

Causes and Symptoms

Dry Eye is caused by not producing enough tears or from producing poor quality tears. Tear production diminishes with age and environmental factors can affect the production of the same. In some cases, if one of the three layers of tears (oil, water, and mucus) is produced in inadequate amounts, then Dry eye can result. Dry Eye most commonly happens when the water layer of tears production proves insufficient. In addition to age and environmental factors like smoke and dry and windy climates, the use of certain medications, medical conditions and even gender (women are more likely to develop Dry Eye) are all factors that can cause the condition.

If you have Dry Eye, some of the symptoms you may experience include scratchy, burning, gritty, or otherwise irritated eyes. In its advanced stages, Dry Eye may impair vision due to damaging the surface of the eyes.

Detection and Treatment

As is the case with most eye conditions, Dry Eye can be detected through a comprehensive eye examination that emphasizes the tear production of the eyes. Components of this exam include:• The patient’s history• Examining the blink dynamics and lid structure of the eyes• Evaluating the cornea and eyelids regarding how it responds to bright lights• Measuring the quality and quantity of the tear productions.

For the Good Health of You

As we age, it is important to maintain healthy habits. Eat well, exercise as vigorously as is safe a few times a week (daily if you can), rest and take care of yourself. Keep stress levels at a minimum and pay attention to changes in your body. Use the information above as a guide only, and should you notice any changes in your vision – even if it is not yet significantly affecting your daily life – be sure to contact your physician immediately for a checkup.