As seniors age, eye diseases can begin to take a toll on their vision and even impact their safety. Regular eye exams are important as can be support from family or professional caregivers.
Q. I am a 78-year-old widower who recently has been diagnosed with cataracts. My vision has deteriorated and I’m scared about not being able to care for myself. I’m scheduled to visit my eye doctor soon to discuss this issue. Until then, what can you tell me about cataracts? Are there other eye issues that can impact seniors?
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you shouldn’t have to live with the problems brought on by cataracts.
Technological advances in recent years have made cataract surgery faster, safer, more comfortable and ultimately more effective, the Academy reports. A cataract is a gradual clouding of the clear lens in the eye, the part that focuses light and produces clear images.
Inside of the eye, the lens is contained in a sealed bag or capsule. As old cells die they become trapped within the capsule, the academy explains. As time passes, more cells die and accumulate causing the lens to cloud, smearing vision and making things appear blurred and fuzzy, like peering through a fogged or frosted window.
Those with a cataract may have:
- blurry vision, with no pain
- glare, or sensitivity to light
- many eyeglass prescription changes
- double vision in one eye
- the need to read with brighter light
- poor night vision
- dull or yellowed eye color
Nearly half of all people will have a cataract by the time they are 65 years old. In addition to aging, other causes of cataracts include:
- family history of cataracts
- medical problems, such as diabetes or alcoholism
- eye injuries
- medications, such as steroids
- high salt intake
- long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight
- complications from previous eye surgery
A study published in the June 2010 Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, reports that cataracts could be less prevalent among aging women if they ate more foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
This study looked at the records of 1,808 women who participated in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease study, residing in Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon. Results from this study, conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, revealed that healthy diets are more strongly related to the lower occurrence of nuclear cataracts than any other modifiable risk factor or protective factor studied in this sample of women.
The study further concluded that lifestyle improvements such as healthy diets, smoking cessation and avoiding obesity may substantively lower the need for and economic burden of cataract surgery in aging American women.
Another eye condition that can afflict older adults is glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition in which the optic nerve, responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain, is damaged, according to the Academy. Although the nerve damage is usually associated with elevated pressure inside the eye, other factors can be involved. It may begin with the loss of peripheral vision and then advance to a reduction in central vision. Glaucoma can potentially lead to vision loss or blindness, the Academy reports.
Having diabetes or cardiovascular disease can increase a person’s risk for glaucoma. Certain eye diseases or injuries, or taking some medications that increase eye pressure, can also make the disease more likely. Even myopia (being nearsighted) increases the risk, so it’s important to have your eyes examined every year or so. Although glaucoma can’t be cured, early detection and treatment can prevent vision loss.
If your eyes are causing problems, why not hire extra help around the house so that your safety will not be compromised by vision issues. Home Instead Senior Care® employs CAREGiversSM to help with non-medical tasks such as meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands and shopping. A CAREGiver can even take you to your doctor’s appointments.
For more information about cataracts and glaucoma, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology website at www.aao.org. For additional information about the cataract research, log on to http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-06/jaaj-hda061010.php.