Vision loss among seniors is a big health problem. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about one in three seniors has or will have eye conditions that reduce their ability to see, focus or function.
Dr. Annalisa Schloss, optometrist and low-vision specialist at the Cleveland Sight Center in Cleveland, and Kathy Leoni, owner of Eyewear at the Hamptons, soon to be Eyewear at the Vantage, in Beachwood, said there are many age-related vision conditions and some are more common than others.
Schloss explained changes in vision can start to manifest around age 40.
“Generally, around that time, the eyes stop being able to focus,” she said.
Focus issues are normal and can be easily corrected, according to Schloss.
“But after that, what most people notice around their 50s and 60s is their night vision isn’t what they are used to,” she said. “You don’t go fully night blind, it’s just much harder.”
Following those changes, Schloss said it’s not uncommon for those in their 60s and 70s to develop cataracts or clouding of a normally clear eye lens.
“They will notice it’s harder to see things at a distance or it’s harder to discern colors,” she said. “All those things are manageable and they aren’t eye diseases. It’s the eye getting older. So, generally, we recommend adults see their eye doctor every two years to make sure they aren’t developing a disease. And that is when the eye is actually sick, though that doesn’t happen to everyone. If vision turns dim or blanks out at times, that’s a big red flag to make an appointment right away.”
Leoni explained other changes can manifest in light sensitivity, blurred vision and moisture loss.
“Our aging eyes become less moist and can cause vision to not be 100% clear,” she said. “Also, you can experience drier eyelids. That can be corrected by washing them. You lose those oils and that can cause blurred vision and discomfort.”
With aging adults, especially those with a family history of vision issues, age-related or not, as well as macular degeneration, regular visits to the eye doctor are recommended.
“Eye issues can happen out of the blue, especially for aging adults,” Leoni said. “And that isn’t easy for older adults to get out, especially if they aren’t living at home. But, it’s important to make a point. If they notice anything like flashing lights or floaters, you should get to your eye doctor immediately as it can be retina related.”
If a family member is concerned about their aging loved one’s vision ability, there are a few things to look out for.
“As long as they are healthy, they should be able to read the newspaper, watch television and pick up a medicine bottle and read it,” Schloss said. “But if you notice they are not able to recognize your face until you move closer or if they are bumping into tables, that is something to let the doctor know.”
Schloss added whatever is happening to a senior health-wise can also affect their ability to see and focus.
“Specific eye conditions don’t generally affect the body, however, the reverse is completely true,” she explained. “If you have high blood pressure, you can have bleeding in the eye. The same thing goes with diabetes. Since the eye is connected right into the body, those blood vessels are still connected to you. The main thing to understand is you can’t replace the eye. In the eye, only one part can be transplanted, unlike other organs. So, maintain your health to keep your eyes healthy, too.”
Some of these issues can be combated with diet and care.
“Everyone, especially seniors, should be eating a lot of green, leafy vegetables,” Leoni said. “There are people who substitute their eye moisture with flaxseed oil in capsule form. It’s not just good for your hair and skin, but for your eyes too.”
Schloss said, “A healthy lifestyle, exercising and eating right helps your eyesight. Those cells need oxygen. Also, UV rays are dangerous, so even using a hat or sunglasses can mitigate that.”
Leoni also suggested seniors try to quit smoking or smoke less to prevent macular degeneration, which is an eye disease that causes major vision loss.
But it’s important to know the difference between normal vision loss and eye diseases.
“I work with people with eye diseases, whose eyes are sick, and they struggle,” Schloss said. “And if the eye does become sick and you’re losing function, it’s good to check in. Some aides can help people who are losing vision. It’s just about being able to compensate for the loss.”