Aging is a natural phenomenon. Just like all other organs in our body, aging brings about eye problems and vision related changes. These vision problems also bring about challenges in dealing with our day-to-day activities. Most elderlies face issues such as losing the ability to see far away objects, trouble in distinguishing colours and adjusting to various light frequencies. The risk of some eye diseases increases as you grow older. Some changes in vision and eye health may be a serious one too. However, most of these eye problems can be corrected using glasses or contact lenses thereby, enabling the elderlies to gain back their confidence, independence and maintain their lifestyle. Regular eye examinations help in early diagnosis eye health conditions.
Aging and eye
Aging brings about spur and weakness in the eyes. While normal changes of the aging eye may not affect one’s vision, sensitivity to light, changing wind speeds and temperatures may lead to eyes problems such as eyes that leak tears. Leaking tears may also be a sign of blocked tear glands or dry eyes.
Common Eye problems faced by the elderly
Some of the most common eye health issues faced by the elderlies are generally categorized as age related and health related.Age related eye issues
- Presbyopia refers to the progressive and irreversible loss of accommodative ability of the eye to focus on nearby objects. Since the eye loses its ability to increase its refractive index, close objects appear blurred.
- Cataract is a common eye problem of the elderly. These are the cloudy area of the lens of the eye and are formed when proteins build up in the lens. This generally starts from the inside of the lens. Cataracts lead to decreased vision and if left untreated may cause blindness in the elders.
- Glaucoma is the most common cause of blindness in elderlies. This is an eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged. While this remains asymptomatic in the beginning, gradually it progresses and leads to loss of peripheral vision, redness of the eye, pain and experiencing halos around lights and glare in bright light
- Age Related Macular Degeneration or AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in elders above the age of 65. This eye disease which blurs one’s central vision is the result of the deterioration of the central part of retina called the macula When aging causes damage to the macula (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) it affects the sharp, straight-ahead vision.
Health related eye problems
- Diabetic Retinopathy – This is an eye condition faced by people who have diabetes. This eye problem affects the blood vessels of the retina and leads to vision loss and blindness. The initial symptoms may include trouble reading or seeing faraway objects. In the later stages of this condition, the blood vessels in the retina bleed into the fluid in the eye. Diabetic retinopathy can also lead to the development of Diabetic Macular Edema (DME) and Neovascular glaucoma.
- Hypertensive Retinopathy – This eye condition is found in people with high blood pressure. The symptoms include swelling of the eye, reduced vision, bursting of blood vessels and double vision and headaches.
- Retinal Vein occlusion – This is an eye condition where the veins carrying blood away from the retina get blocked due to blood clots. This is one of the complications of the retina, developed as a result of hypertensive retinopathy.
- Dry eyes- This eye problem develops when the tear glands fail to keep the surface of the eye moist and lubricated.
Do all eye diseases in the elderly lead to vision loss?
Not all eye disorders cause visual loss. Some disorders have very good prognosis like cataract. Some disorders can be maintained by regular eye check-up and treatment like Diabetic Retinopathy, glaucoma, ARMD. Some disorders like retinal dystrophy (Retinitis pigmentosa) will have poor prognosis.
Impact of vision loss
- Physical – unable to read and write, difficulty in daily activities, problems during walking and climbing the stairs, occupational problems.
- Mental – stress, depression
Prevention and Treatment
- Regular eye examinations
- Healthy diet and healthy lifestyle
Have your eyes checked up regularly by an Ophthalmologist. Early diagnosis of any eye problems can help protect vision and prevent vision loss. Make a list of your questions and concerns to share with the doctor. Tell them which medications you are taking. Some can affect eyes. Eye surgery like cataract surgery will become necessary in many patients at old age. For having good Vision after cataract surgery, healthy retina is important Vision will improve after the surgery. Healthy diet and lifestyle are important for maintaining good eye health. Regular intake of green leafy vegetables and fruits is recommended.