Your sense of vision is among the most important of all senses, especially for the elderly. Sight-threatening problems affect one in six adults aged between 45 and 70. And the risk for vision loss only increases with age. Older people don’t realise how untreated, age-related eye changes can harm vision and, eventually, their quality of life.
Regular eye exams are the best way to make sure you maintain healthy vision for a lifetime, even as you grow older. A majority of the visually disabled enter their retirement years with no more than presbyopia. This is an age-related loss in near focusing ability, noticed in the 40s. To see the close or intermediate distance, the patient would require bifocals and progressive lenses in their spectacles. Presbyopia along with pre-existing long sight (hyperopia), short sight (myopia) and astigmatism account for almost 40 per cent of visual diseases in the elderly.
Common causes of vision loss in the elderly can be classified into acute and chronic. Acute causes include retinal detachment and occlusion of the blood vessels in the retina. These could have early symptoms of spots and floaters in your field of vision. It will feel like a dark curtain that has settled across your field of vision. This is a medical emergency and an early eye examination by an ophthalmologist is a must.Cataract
Cataract is one of the most common treatable causes of gradual visual impairment in the elderly throughout the world. Clouding of the eye’s natural lens causes a gradual diminishing of vision. A phacoemulsification surgery with an intraocular lens implant enables almost full recovery of the vision. Macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD, is the next leading cause of vision loss and blindness. AMD is degeneration of the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for creating sharp, central vision needed to read or drive. This could lead to loss of central vision. About 1.75 million US residents currently have advanced age-related macular degeneration with associated vision loss. This number is expected to grow to almost 3 million by 2020. There is as yet no outright cure for age-related macular degeneration, but some treatments may delay its progression or even improve vision.Glaucoma
Glaucoma refers to a category of eye disorders often associated with a dangerous buildup of intraocular pressure (IOP). Glaucoma can damage the eye’s optic nerve that transmits visual information to the brain. Much like blood pressure, glaucoma can only be controlled with medicines, surgery or laser. With untreated or uncontrolled glaucoma, you might eventually notice a decreased ability to see at the edges of your vision (peripheral vision). Progressive eye damage could then lead to blindness.Warning signs
The following signs and symptoms can indicate a medical emergency. You should see your eye doctor immediately if you experience:
*A flood of spots and floaters in your field of vision
*A sensation that a dark curtain has settled across your field of view
*Sudden eye pain, redness, nausea, and vomiting
*Gradual (or sudden) narrowing of your field of vision, leaving you with the ability to see only what’s directly in front of you.
*A gradual loss of central vision, including distortions such as seeing wavy instead of straight lines
*Cloudy and blurred eyesight, “halos” around lights at night, loss of bright colour vision
*Scratchy or irritated sensation, eye surface pain, tearing
*Double vision, double images, or “ghost” images.
*Sudden blurry vision in one eye
Ways to protect your vision
*Regular eye exams are particularly important, because an early diagnosis can limit any vision loss and help preserve your eyesight.
*Control systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension as they can result in vision loss
*Protect your eyes from harmful UV light
*Eat a healthy balanced food. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be good for the eyes.
*Don’t smoke — the many effects of this on health and your eyes have been well- documented.
Though these steps cannot guarantee freedom from eye ailments, wise lifestyle choices and regular eye exams can significantly improve your chances of maintaining good eye health even as you age.(The author is Chief Medical Officer, Sankara Eye Care Institutions)