Age-Related Vision Loss


They say the eyes are the window to the soul. However, as we age, their function begins to decline, especially past the big 60. While some changes are normal and don’t offer any cause for alarm, others are more serious and can be corrected with treatment.

Eye changes affect your quality of life as you age. Some of these conditions include:

  • Glaucoma
  • Retinopathy
  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration

Some vision changes are just a normal part of aging. These can include things such as:

  • Trouble focusing on close items (Presbyopia)
  • Finding it more difficult to distinguish colors
  • Identifying where objects end and where backgrounds begin
  • Needing more light to see objects
  • Needing more time for your eyes to adjust when a light is turned on in a dark room

If you find yourself suffering from these things, know they are a normal part of aging. There isn’t anything to worry about if you find yourself needing reader glasses either. Just be sure you have enough lighting in your home.

Having actual vision loss isn’t a normal part of aging, however. Everyone faces some vision changes as you age but partial blindness is a cause for concern. The older you are the more at-risk you become for age-related eye conditions.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in individuals aged 60 and older. It’s actually a few conditions that attack the optic nerve.

Glaucoma can be caused by abnormal pressure inside the eye. Other diseases can make the optic nerve begin to deteriorate.

Many forms of glaucoma show few advanced warning signs, so people are unaware they have it until it’s at a more advanced stage. Vision loss from this condition can’t be regained, which is why it’s so important to get yearly check-ups so it can be diagnosed sooner than later. If it’s caught early enough, vision loss can be slowed and, in some cases, prevented.

Types of Glaucoma

  • Open-angle: characterized by tunnel vision and patchy blind spots in central or peripheral vision
  • Acute-angle: characterized by eye pain, nausea and vomiting, eye redness, headaches, and halos surrounding lights
  • Secondary glaucoma: characterized by light sensitivity and seeing halos
  • Normal-tension glaucoma: characterized by loss of peripheral vision, missing things out of the corners of your eye, narrowing vision

If these symptoms are left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness. Even among those who do get treatment of some sort, about 15% of people end up going blind in one eye in the following 20 years.

Retinopathy

Retinopathy is damage to the retina of the eye. The retina is the organ that senses light, and there are different things that can cause retinopathy. People with this disease suffer partial or full blindness. It can develop gradually or suddenly and it either gets better or causes permanent damage to the eye.

Types include:

  • Retinopathy of Prematurity: Occurs in premature infants or those with low birth weight.
  • Hypertensive Retinopathy: Occurs when high blood pressure affects blood vessels around eyes.
  • Central Serous Retinopathy: Happens when membranes located behind the retina fill with fluid and the cause isn’t well known. The fluid seeps underneath the retina layer causing separation which results in poor vision at night and blurry vision.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: Develops with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and can take several years to notice. In nonproliferative retinopathy, retina blood vessels deteriorate, and they may become deformed or blocked. In proliferative retinopathy, there are unstable blood vessels that may grow on the retina causing bleeding which in turn causes scarring and irritation.

Symptoms

Retinopathy of prematurity doesn’t always show outward signs or symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to keep up on your regular check-ups with an Opthalmologist, as they can find early signs of this disease.

With diabetic retinopathy you may not notice symptoms until the more advanced stages of the disease. Some of the symptoms include blurred vision, flashing lights, one or both eyes experience vision loss, detailed work becomes harder to focus on and see, reading becomes a difficult chore, and black spots.

Hypertensive retinopathy doesn’t typically present any symptoms. However, some people will complain of blurred vision.

Symptoms of central serous retinopathy can include distorted shapes, blind spots, dim or blurred vision that gradually creeps up, and visual sharpness becomes reduced.

Cataracts

Cataracts is clouding of the eyes’ lens. The top cause of blindness in the world, cataracts afflicts people past age 40. As we age, proteins in the lens clumps together and begin clouding small parts of the lens, and over time this area grows larger. Soon enough, more of the lens is cloudy and it becomes difficult to see There are several types of cataracts:

  • Subcapsular Cataracts: The clouding occurs at the back part of the lens. Individuals who take steroid medications or those with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing this type of cataracts.
  • Nuclear Cataract: The clouding happens deep in the central part of the lens of the eye. This type is commonly found with as age progresses.
  • Cortical Cataract: This condition is characterized by wedge-like, white opacities which are found in the cortex of the lens, which surrounds the nucleus. The opacities often work their way into the center in a spoke-like manner.

In the beginning stages, cataracts won’t have much impact on your sight. At times you may notice some blurred vision which can appear to be like looking through a cloudy window or piece of glass.

Cataracts can make light from a lamp or the sun seem too bright. You might even notice difficulty driving at night as headlights cause more glare than normal. Also, colors may not seem as vibrant and bright.

It’s unclear why the lens clouds over as we age, but experts have identified risk factors. Some of these risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Eye injury or inflammation
  • High myopia
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • UV radiation
  • Use of statin medications
  • Hormone therapy

If you suffer from cataracts, you have the option to undergo cataract surgery to help improve vision. However, save this option until your cataracts has developed to a more serious stage. If it’s in the early stages, bifocals and other visual aids that can be used.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration gets progressively gets worse as you age. This disease is the leading cause permanent vision loss problems in the elderly. An estimated 1.8 million Americans have it.

Cells in the macula section of the retina become dysfunctional. There are two forms: "dry" (atrophic) and "wet" (exudative).

The cause of any case of macular degeneration cannot be identified, but your genes may play a part in it. If you know someone in your family who has it your chances of developing it are higher. Other risk factors include:

  • Having a light skin tone
  • Female sex
  • Diet with high levels of saturated fat
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

AMD doesn’t necessarily cause blindness, but usually severe problems with your vision. Another form of macular degeneration called Stargardt disease affects children and young adults.

Symptoms you might notice include:

  • Blurry or dark areas in your vision
  • Different perception in colors
  • Less or blurry clear vision
  • Difficulty driving

These are just a few of the most common age-related vision loss problems you may experience as you age. The best method for prevention and monitoring of your eyes is to schedule a check-up with your eye doctor. They can monitor you for early signs of these diseases and can help fight them before they get too bad.

Preventing Eye Changes

Steps to help keep your eyes as healthy as possible as you age:

  • Keep regular check-ups with your family physician to monitor for diseases that can potentially lead to eye problems.
  • Schedule a check-up with your ophthalmologist every year or two. A full eye exam can catch most eye problems early when they be corrected or treated. Make sure you are screened for glaucoma and have your eyesight checked. You may have your pupils dilated with drops so the doctor can get a better look at your eyes.
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a diet rich in green and leafy vegetables
  • Wear sunglasses when you are in the sun
  • Wear a hat when you are in the sun
  • Establish an exercise routine
  • If you have diabetes, control it

“Wisdom is the reward for surviving our own stupidity.” - Brian Rathbone

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