Did you know?
By age 65, one in the three Americans has some form of vision-impairing eye condition.
Now that’s quite surprisingly true – eye problems in seniors are that common, not only in the US, but all over the world.
If you are unable to detect and treat certain eye problems in the elderly in time, their chances of falling victim to partial or total vision loss arise significantly. According to recent research:
If you want to keep enjoying the colors of life as long as you live, pay heed to the list of eye diseases described below, well capable of turning the lights out for you as you age, and make sure to follow the tips to avoid them.
1: Macular Degeneration
Affecting more than 1.7 million US citizens in 2004 alone, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss throughout the developed world. Experts project this number to jump to 3 million by the 2020 due to rapid aging of the US population.
In AMD, central vision is affected, which also means it rarely leads a person to total blindness. However, macular degeneration can wreak havoc in a person’s life by limiting them in reading, writing or other daily activities requiring a sharp central vision.
Macula, the central region of retina, is responsible to maintain sight within the center of your field of vision, and AMD starts damaging or degenerating it to the point of visual impairment, limiting you to drive, read, recognize faces and other such activities.
Macular degeneration is segregated into two main types:
Dry Macular Degeneration: It is the more common of the two types. Though scientists are not certain about its underlying causes, it takes effect as the light sensitive cells constituting the macula go on a gradual deterioration, mostly targeting one eye at a time.
Wet Macular Degeneration: Though less common, all severe cases of vision loss due to AMD are caused by the wet macular degeneration. It is marked by the growth of new blood vessels beneath the retina, leaking fluid and blood there, creating a large blind spot through the center of the field of vision.
2: Diabetic Retinopathy
Retina has a cluster of blood vessels in it and changes in it lead a person to the diabetic retinopathy, one of the leading causes of blindness in adult population of the US.
These changes in retinal blood vessels can be of different types (swelling and leaking fluid in some people and growing abnormally on the surface of the retina in others), may also resulting in vision loss or blindness.
Unfortunately, totally avoiding diabetic retinopathy is not possible, but reducing the risks is very much a possibility. Effective controlling of blood sugar levels reduces the progression of retinopathy, lessening the need for laser surgery as a treatment of severe retinopathy.
Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy: Anyone suffering from diabetes is at risk for diabetic retinopathy. In fact, having diabetes for a long period of time makes a person increasingly vulnerable to diabetic retinopathy.
Preventive Measures against Diabetic Retinopathy: Total prevention of diabetic retinopathy is not possible, but the risks of catching it can be reduced by:
- Taking dilated eye examination once a year
- Strict monitoring of blood sugar levels
Glaucoma refers to an eye condition with elevated fluid pressure inside the eyes, produced due to the inability of fluid aqueous humor to drain out appropriately. As a result, the fluid gathers, raising the pressure and damaging the optic nerve.
Earlier, physicians believed high intraocular pressure (also referred as ocular hypertension) to be the primary factor responsible for optic nerve damage, but now it has been established that vision loss from glaucoma can also occur in persons having normal intraocular pressure. So, the real cause(s) of glaucoma still remain unknown.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma: Though glaucoma can affect anyone, but some people are more probable than others to be affected from it. Some of the major risk factors of glaucoma include:
Race: African Americans suffer from vision loss due to glaucoma more than any other eye problems.
Age: Glaucoma occurs more in people aged 60 and above.
Family History: Family history of glaucoma increases the risk of a person to be inflicted by glaucoma.
High Intraocular Pressure: Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) (above 21 mm Hg) makes a person highly vulnerable to glaucoma.
The lens of the eye is transparent, allowing the light to pass through it to focus on the retina. Cataracts refers to the situation when this lens turns opaque, getting clouded over the top, disturbing the flow of light to the retina through the lens, thus affecting the vision of a person.
When the protein making up the lens starts clumping together, the clouding effect begins, interfering with the vision. A cataract might not turn into a serious problem in its early stages until the cloudiness is affecting just a small part of the lens.
However, vision starts getting hindered as the cloud grows over time, making it difficult for a person to see clearly. As less and less light passes on to the retina, vision becomes dull and blurry. Though cataract is a non contagious eye disease, many people get cataracts in both eyes.
Risk Factors of Cataracts:
A few of the major risk factors for this eye disease include:
Age: It is believed to be the major risk factor of the cataracts. Though developing many times between 40-50 years, usually age-related cataracts do not seriously affect the vision until after 60 years.
Geographic Location: According to recent studies, people living in high altitude zones are more prone to cataracts than others.
Sun Exposure: Recent research also indicates that excessive exposure to sun is also linked to getting cataracts earlier than those who avoid extensive sun exposure.
5: Retinitis Pigmentosa
Retina is the cell rich lining at the back of the eye that receives lights passing through the lens of the eye. Retinitis pigmentosa damages the photoreceptor cells of the retina (rods and cones) due to a group of rare genetic disorders, eventually killing them and leaving a person blind.
Symptoms of this eye disease depend upon whether rods were initially affected or the cones. RP is known to mostly affect rods first.
The peripheral and night vision are affected due to damaged rods, as they are triggered by dim light, found abundantly in the outer portions of the retina. On the other hand, the loss of color perception and central vision depends upon the damage to the cones, located centrally in the retina.
Diagnosis of RP: Typically, adolescents and young adults are diagnosed with RT, a progressive disorder in nature. Every victim experiences a varied rate of progression and the resulting loss of vision. Most people suffering from RP are considered legally blind by age 40, when their central visual field reduces, going down to less than 20 degrees in diameter. Being a genetic disorder, RP is almost always inherited.
Inheritance of RP: In US, about a 100,000 people are estimated to be suffering from RP, mostly as a result of inheritance of mutated genes from one or both parents. When someone in a family is diagnosed with RP, experts strongly advise whole family to go through an eye exam by a seasoned physician specialized in diagnosis of this genetic eye disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
1: Managing Health Conditions
There is no doubt that overall health in general and eye health in particular, can be improved significantly if you take appropriate preventive measures, from taking the right food for the eyes to not missing your scheduled eye exams.
For example, visiting your eye doctor regularly can help you with tracking intraocular pressure (IOP), which plays a vital role in early diagnosis of glaucoma, a leading cause to blindness. Early diagnosis and treatment make sure you keep a safe distance from a potential cause of vision loss.
Similarly, diet has a lot to do with your eye health, but majority of people fail to recognize the significance of a healthy diet to prevent eye problems as they age.
The structural and functional integrity of retina relies heavily on specialized polyunsaturated fatty acids, LC-PUFA or long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Any type of food intake lacking in LC-PUFA might lead to problems in retinal development, structure and function.
Meat products and sea food is rich in LC-PUFAs, fulfilling the body’s requirement of these essential fatty acids, ensure that your eyes remain healthy and functional as long as possible. Eye problems involving diabetic retinopathy can also be avoided with the help of healthy diet.
Another eye disease that was much common some time ago, but is on a gradual decline now, tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, can affect your eyes as a result of chronic tobacco smoking, leading to severe vision loss.
Eyes’ conjunctiva mucosa is highly irritable to the cigarette smoke, which means it can also affect the eyes of nonsmokers (passive smoking). So, staying away from tobacco and cigarette smoke means saving your eyes from a potential source of damage.
2: Protective Lenses
Another simple yet effective way of protecting your eyes and eyesight is resorting to protective lenses, minimizing the hazards of sunlight exposure without compromising much on visual clarity.
Almost all modern prescriptions cater two components, the lens protection and the retina protection. Contemporary lenses are designed specifically to minimize the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, safeguarding the eyes from aging related damages as well.
3: Vision Screening
One of the best ways to prevent vision impairment and vision loss in adults is vision screening in children, identifying and treating any signs of visual impairment or eye conditions capable of leading to blindness.
Not only is it highly efficient, but also equally cost effective, successfully identifying and referring children to appropriate eye care professionals to further investigate, evaluate and treat in due time.
Eye screening in children can be done using different methods. Choosing the right method largely depends upon the age of the child due for examination and the experience of the eye care professional undertaking the screening.
The major purpose behind vision screening in children is to identify children who already have, or are prone to development of amblyopia, which might lead them to visual impairment of one kind or the other, unless treated through early childhood.
Vision screening can also detect various other eye problems like strabismus (misaligned eyes), glaucoma, cataracts and refractive errors including astigmatism, myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and some serious eye conditions involving neurological diseases and tumors.
The best time for vision screening spans periodic checkups throughout the childhood. The sooner an issue is detected, the better are its chances of getting the right treatment, restoring as much of the eyesight as possible.
A child should get first vision screening right in the nursery, where an eye care professional would inspect a newborn’s eyes, pupil and red reflex. This should be followed by further age appropriate vision screenings all through the infancy and childhood.
4: Low Vision Aids
A fine vision is all about seeing the world around you with a clear perception of detail, distinguishing what you see based on color and contrast. This vision – your ability to see things – deteriorates naturally as you age.
Mostly, this diminishing visual capability can be contained using suitable glasses, medication or surgery. However, vision loss can be permanent as well, resulting due to an incurable eye disease or injury, leaving you visually impaired or blind.
Luckily, many people around the world suffering from permanent vision impairment still have some residual vision. With the help of various types of low vision aids, this type of visual impairment can be countered well enough, helping you make the most out of your residual vision.
Losing vision (whether age-related or disease-inflicted) is not about giving up on your daily activities, but it is more about embracing your situation and resorting to new and improved ways of doing them.
If someone in your family or friends is suffering from vision loss, help them find some well rounded low vision aids instead of taking over their tasks. Make sure to refer them authentic FDA approved low vision aids or they can end up in even worse condition.