The number of people 60 years and older is rapidly increasing compared to birth rates. With an increase in age comes an increase in the prevalence of visual impairments, which can have a negative impact on your quality-of-life. As the eyes are one of the main ways we experience the world, eyesight issues affect the quality of life not only of older adults, but also of their families and society. Therefore, as our population ages, it is important to be mindful of the following four visual conditions associated with age, to better take care of your vision.
As we age, our skin loses its elasticity and structural support, leading to the drop of eyelids. In addition to eyelid laxity that is seen with age, we also have tear gland atrophy and decreased tear production. This leads to decreased moisture in the eye, which in turn ends in decreased vision due to irritation of the cornea, the transparent outermost membrane of the eye.
Corneal irritation can be a cause of decreased tear production as less moisture exists to protect the eye, leading to decreased sensitivity to contrast and functional vision. One way to prevent dry eyes is to supplement with Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and Vitamin C and Vitamin A, as they decrease inflammation and are great antioxidants. Artificial tears can also provide momentary relief from the discomfort experienced with dry eyes.
Cataracts are clouding of the lens in the eye and can cause visual impairment. Like our skin, our lenses also suffer from decreased elasticity as we age, and changes in the proteins that make up the lens cause us to have a stiffer lens. We also suffer from decreased contractility of the eye muscles, which prevents more accommodation of the eye lens, and thus causes a blurrier image.
As cataracts develop, you may experience blurry vision, double vision, colored halos around light, and even increased frequency of adjusting the prescription on corrective glasses. Age, smoking, and diabetes have been found to be the greatest risk factor in developing age-related cataracts. Finally, as we age, our cells have a much harder time fighting oxidative stress, and thus individuals who supplement with antioxidants and vitamins are shown to have decreased incidence of cataract formation.
Lastly, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can affect the retina, the area deep in the eye that lines the inside of the eye and holds all the light receptors. Near the center of the retina, the macula is responsible for central and high-resolution color vision. This disease affects nearly 9% of the world’s population, and when it is advanced, individuals will have a hard time looking straight ahead because the disease affects the central vision while sparing peripheral vision.
AMD can present only in one eye and may be without symptoms for many years until it progresses from minimal blurred central vision loss to complete distortion of images. Regular retinal eye exams are recommended. Laser surgery is the primary treatment for wet AMD, while continued monitoring is recommended for dry AMD.
As we age, our bodies’ cells continue to fight the damage from oxidative stress and from normal aging. Eating a healthy balanced meal is a great way of having a diet rich in nutrients and antioxidants. If time is limited, supplementing with a multivitamin and antioxidative supplements can help increase the antioxidants in your diet. Finally, getting a regular eye exam with an eye doctor is essential since an earlier intervention in age-related eye conditions has been shown to help maintain a higher quality of life.
Gabriel Espinoza, MD, has experience in caring for patients in critical care, primary care, and emergency settings. Some of the topics he has focused on in his medical career include public health, pediatrics, wellness, and fitness. He has co-authored a chapter on the utility of point-of-care ultrasound in the diagnoses of eye conditions. The content written by Dr. Espinoza is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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