Through aging eyes: unmasking vision problems in the elderly

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An elderly coupleWe have been told since childhood to brush our teeth twice a day, floss daily and see our dentist every 6 months. But how many of us schedule eye exams with the same care? Just like our teeth, our eyes are used daily and we rely on them heavily. Unfortunately our eye health is sometimes neglected or taken for granted and that is when the trouble starts.

When it comes to eye disorders, you won’t always see a problem. The changes in vision can be so gradual that by the time you take notice, it may be too late. In fact, some diseases are painless so that they too may go unnoticed until it’s too late. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 65% of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older. With an increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of visual impairment due to chronic eye diseases and the aging process.

Some common eye disorders that affect the aging population include:

Cataracts

Cataracts are the result of the clouding of the lens of the eye, thus preventing clear vision. Most cases are related to the aging process. People often describe having cataracts as looking through a dirty windshield as your vision becomes blurry. Fortunately, cataracts can be surgically removed by extracting the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial one, thus restoring ones vision.  View a cataracts vision simulator.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of vision loss in seniors in Canada. It can occur gradually and doesn’t present any sudden symptoms. Glaucoma involves damage to the optic nerve most often caused by high pressure inside the eye due to a buildup of excess fluid. With time, this disease causes a loss of peripheral vision, and if glaucoma is left untreated, it could lead to “tunnel” vision or it may result in complete loss of vision. View a glaucoma vision simulator.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects central vision. People with AMD experience blurring in the center of their line of sight, with a growing central blind spot. Other symptoms can include distorted vision where words on a page seem to be arranged in wavy or straight lines or edges of objects seem to be crooked. The Amsler grid is a useful tool to use for early detection and can be used at home. View an AMD simulator.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR)
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Canadians under 50. Diabetes can affect many parts of the body, and people with diabetes are at high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, there are often no symptoms and vision is not affected. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may include spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters), blurred vision and fluctuating vision. Without treatment, the condition can lead to uncorrectable vision loss or even blindness, usually in both eyes. View a non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (aka early diabetic retinopathy or a proliferative diabetic retinopathy (aka advanced diabetic retinopathy) simulator.

The best method of eye diseases prevention is early detection. Make sure you schedule regular eye checkups with your eye doctor, and do not brush off any changes in vision as something you expect to happen as you age. Very often, lost vision from some of these diseases cannot be restored, but with early detection, treatment is often very successful and can prevent your vision from getting any worse.

For more information about age-related eye conditions and a full list of symptoms and risk factors, you can consult the CNIB’s vision health guide for people over 50 and their family members.


 

By Tanja Gninka. Tanya holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Concordia University. She worked for over 10 years in research, most of which was dedicated to the field of vision impairment. Tanya has always had an interest in health and nutrition which led her to pursue a certification with CanfitPro as a Nutrition and Weight Loss Specialist. Tanja is a member of the Shepell Fitness Coach Connects Team.

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