For many aging adults, slight vision loss is normal.
But according to Dr. Lidija Balciunas, optometrist and clinical manager at the Cleveland Sight Center in Cleveland; Dr. Scott Fuldauer, optometrist at Park Opticians in Pepper Pike; and Dr. Suber S. Huang, ophthalmologist and founder and CEO of the Retina Center of Ohio in South Euclid, progressive vision loss can point to something more.
There are various, less serious eye conditions aging adults develop that are associated with vision loss – like dry eye and blurry vision. But many seniors also experience more serious conditions, like macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.
“Over the age of 40, 142 million Americans experience some form of vision loss,” Huang said. “These diseases can be very serious and impact every part of daily life. People often feel that vision loss and blindness are a normal part of aging and it isn’t.”
Fuldauer added, “(These conditions) are a silent problem. Especially with glaucoma, the sight loss is irreversible. Typically, there is no pain associated with it until the end stage.”
Generally, the risk for developing these issues rises with old age.
“The lenses of the eye become cloudy, blood vessels don’t provide nutrients as proficiently, especially when conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure is present,” Balciunas noted. “There can also be genetic predispositions that manifest in older age as well.”
Huang said, “Some conditions are easily treatable, such as the need for glasses for taking artificial tears for dry eye. Other conditions, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract or diabetes may require chronic treatment, laser or surgery.”
Fuldauer suggested, “Common things you can do to possibly not age the eye quickly points to nutrition. That is a big component which, to me, is underrated. Smoking can also accelerate eye degeneration.”
But many times, vision loss can indicate other health problems.
“The primary one is diabetes,” Fuldauer explained. “One of the signs of diabetes, if undiagnosed, is fluctuation of vision. High blood pressure is another too.”
Balciunas added, “Manifestations of diabetes, high blood pressure or even brain tumors and systemic infections can sometimes be seen in the eye. Eye doctors can find some of these conditions through certain tests and by looking through a dilated pupil.”
Huang said, “Many people don’t realize that (diabetes) is the No. 1 cause of blindness in working age Americans but that 90% of people can be treated if caught in time. Signs of diabetic retinopathy are often present well before vision is lost.”
The professionals said there are tell tale signs of vision loss that family members can observe. Some of these signs are the inability to recognize faces, slowed walking, trouble eating food, decreased driving ability, reduced reading speed or tired eyes.
“The best way to prevent vision loss is to have a dilated eye exam and to control your blood sugar,” Huang said. “Preserving vision is always preferred to restoring vision once lost.”
Balciunas said families should also be supportive.
“Recommend they have an annual physical and a comprehensive eye exam with his or her ophthalmologist or optometrist,” she suggested. “But also, supply support as needed. For example, drive them where they need to go or help them go through their mail.”
Vision loss prevention starts with regular checkups.
“See a vision professional,” Fuldauer said. “Depending upon the problem, the proper direction can be given. The big thing is, those over the age of 70 to 75, especially if they know they have had previous issues, should be checked early.”
Huang added, “Many chronic eye diseases may not have any symptoms early in its course. Conversely, any new symptom of your eye may be emergencies and should be evaluated quickly. If your eyes are sore, tearing or blurred, they’re trying to tell you something so pay attention and get examined.”