Vision decline can sneak up on you so gradually that you don’t notice it. That probably explains why 61.5 per cent of the Swedish seniors who got an eye exam for an Acta Ophthalmologica study hadn’t realized they’d be able to see better by starting to wear glasses or by changing the strength of their existing prescription.
Participants tended to know their vision was suboptimal if there was a problem with their contrast sensitivity (their ability to distinguish between an object and its background) but most of the seniors with impaired visual acuity (sharpness of vision) reported that they had good sight.
Many senior men and women have worse eyesight than they expect, but overall men’s eyesight tended to be better. This might be due to higher levels of cataracts in women. 27% of women had cataracts, while 19% of men have it.
The most common eye diseases amongst seniors are:
Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside the eye is high, which can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness. There are typically no initial signs, and as many as one million people can have glaucoma without knowing it. This condition is one of the main causes of blindness in the U.S.
A cataract is the translucent lens clouding inside the eye. The lens is made up of water and protein but it can start distorting light transmission through the lens when the protein clumps together. If the cataract worsens and starts to have a significant effect on vision, surgery may be required to remove the blurred lens and replace it with a new one.
3. Macular Degeneration
Macular Degeneration (MD) diminishes sight in a dramatic way: It affects one’s central vision. Although people with MD rarely go completely blind because of it, many find it difficult to read, drive and perform other daily functions. This condition affects the macula, an area at the center of the retina that is responsible for focused, central vision.
4. Diabetic Retinopathy
This potentially blinding disorder is a complication of diabetes. Diabetes causes abnormal changes in the retina’s blood vessels, causing them to become leaky and grow where they should not. These new vessels tend to break and bleed. As they try to heal, the damaged blood vessels will contract and detach the retina.
5. Dry Eye
Dry eye is a condition in which a person produces too few or poor-quality tears. Tears maintain the health of the front surface of the eye and provide clear vision. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults.
So it is important to have seniors do their checks. Age-related eye diseases are diagnosed through an exam performed by an ophthalmologist. A comprehensive eye exam should include at least the following three tests.
- Visual acuity test: The familiar lettered eye chart measures how well you see at various distances.
- Pupil dilation: Drops are placed in the eye to widen the pupil. This allows the doctor to view more of the retina and look for signs of disease. After the examination, close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
- Tonometry: This test determines the fluid pressure inside the eye, and there are many methods of doing so. An “air puff” test is the most common way to screen for high intraocular pressure. It is a painless process in which a small jet of air is shot against the cornea. Other more involved tests may be required to obtain more accurate readings.
Moving to the next point. Driving a car can be increasingly difficult when you’re 60 or older. Changes in age-related vision and eye disorders may have a detrimental effect on your driving ability, long before signs become apparent. Some age-related changes in vision that are commonly affecting driving for seniors are:
- Not being able to see road signs as clearly
- Difficulty seeing objects up close, like the car instrument panel or road maps
- Difficulty judging distances and speed
- Changes in color perception
- Problems seeing in low light or at night
- Difficulty adapting to bright sunlight or glare from headlights
- Experiencing a loss of side vision
These tips can help you stay safe when driving, especially at night:
- Use extra caution at intersections. Many collisions involving older drivers occur at intersections due to a failure to yield, especially when taking a left turn. Look carefully in both directions before proceeding into an intersection. Turn your head frequently when driving to compensate for any decreased peripheral vision.
- Reduce your speed and limit yourself to daytime driving. If you are having trouble seeing at night or your eyes have difficulty recovering from the glare of oncoming headlights, slow down and avoid driving at night.
- Avoid wearing eyeglasses and sunglasses with wide frames or temples. Glasses with wide temples (side arms) may restrict your side vision.
- Have an annual eye examination. Yearly eye exams can ensure your eyeglass or contact lens prescription is up to date. It can also ensure early detection and treatment of any developing eye health problem.
Final lesson: even if you don’t think your vision is deteriorating, you could still benefit from visiting the optometrist regularly as you get older.
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