With aging comes an increased risk of eye problems that can affect an individual's lifestyle and independence. While everyone loses some vision as they age, glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy are among the most common eye disorders experienced by seniors.
Luckily, says Mark Kuperwaser, M.D., chief ophthalmologist at Hebrew SeniorLife, most of these eye problems are easily treated if detected early.
Glaucoma is a disease in which a build up of pressure within the eye causes damage to the optic nerve and, therefore, to vision. Annual screening tests are recommended for people over 40. If glaucoma is detected in its early stages, it can be effectively treated to prevent vision loss.
Cataracts, which are fairly common in older people, occur when the transparent lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque. Cataracts are easily treated with outpatient surgery, one of the most common operations performed in the United States today. New, less-invasive surgical procedures are constantly being refined.
The leading cause of vision impairment in people over 70, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is a degenerative disease that affects the macula, a small spot in the central area of the retina that is responsible for sight in the center of the field of vision. It almost never results in total blindness, but can have a profound effect on simple, everyday activities. Some cases of ARMD can be treated with laser surgery.
About 80 percent of people who have had diabetes for 15 years or more suffer from some damage to the blood vessels in the eye, or diabetic retinopathy. Keeping blood sugar under control can lessen the impact of diabetes on the eyes. A yearly eye check-up is mandatory.
Dr. Kuperwaser suggests that Americans over 40 have regular medical check-ups to detect treatable diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that can affect vision; see an ophthalmologist if they notice loss or dimness of vision, eye pain, or discharge from the eyes; and have an annual vision exam.