Resources: Senior Health Issues at Hebrew SeniorLife

What is low vision

Eyesight is a key to maintaining independence as we age. One in four adults over the age of 65 suffers from low vision. With help from specialists and new technologies, seniors with vision impairment can still live an active life.

“Low vision” refers to varying levels of impairment, including legal blindness, that can’t be corrected with glasses or contacts. It can have a serious impact on seniors’ physical and emotional health, according to Mark C. Kuperwaser, M.D., director of ophthalmology at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center.

“Without treatment, vision loss can contribute to isolation and a loss of mobility,” says Dr. Kuperwaser. “Vision also plays a role in balance, so seniors with impaired eyesight have an increased risk of falling.” A recent study at the University of Montreal found that 40 to 50 percent of seniors with vision-impairing eye diseases have a fear of falling, and limit their activities because of it.

The leading cause of vision loss in seniors is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition causes impairment to central vision, which is the most common area of eyesight. It’s used for tasks like reading, driving and seeing pictures or faces.

Studies have shown that living a healthy lifestyle can prevent AMD. Dr. Kuperwaser’s recommendations include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise and lose weight if necessary
  • Eat a low-fat diet containing fruits, green leafy vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and eggs
  • Check with your doctor or eye care provider before taking special eye vitamins

In the past, there was no way to treat the vision loss associated with AMD. But over the last decade, new treatments have been found that can stop the disease from progressing, or even reverse lost eyesight in some patients.

“If you notice changes in vision, the first step is to see an eye doctor,” says Dr. Kuperwaser. “Even if treatment can’t restore eyesight, vision rehabilitation can help you learn to effectively use your remaining vision.”

Some adaptive tools and technologies that a specialist might recommend include:

  • High-powered, hand-held magnifying lenses to read small print
  • Telescopes that can be fit into eyeglasses
  • A mouse that scans in text and projects it onto a large-screen TV or computer monitor
  • Replacement knobs for kitchen stoves

In addition, seniors with low vision should take steps to prevent falls in the home:

  • Make sure rooms are well-lit and free of clutter
  • Install handrails in bathrooms and stairways
  • Use paint or reflective tape to mark steps

With the right resources in place, vision loss doesn’t have to mean an end to enjoying hobbies, activities and social occasions.

Learn more about keeping your eyes healthy as you age.

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