As you age, your eyes age with you. They wear out just as easily as your body, if not more. And while you can’t avoid the vision problems that will come, there are ways to cope with them and prevent total vision loss.
How is it possible? By making some simple changes to how you live.
Step One: Identify that Your Vision Is Failing
Fortunately, there are many signs that can warn you of age-related vision loss, including:
- Difficulty reading and doing fine work
- Seeing stars or shadows
- Your vision prescription changes frequently
- You can never seem to get enough light to see well
- Double vision
If you experience any or all of these problems, your vision may be failing you.
Step Two: Understand Common Causes of Vision Failure and How to Cope With It
There are several reasons your vision will start to fail, and many of them are quite common. Here are 6 common reasons your vision will start to fail, what you can expect to experience and what you can do to counteract it:
1. Reduced Pupil Size. One of the most common reasons your vision fails as you age is a result of the pupils becoming smaller. By the time you turn 60 years old, your pupils have decreased in size so much that they are approximately one-third smaller than they were when you were in your 20s. As the pupils become smaller, they are less responsive to variations of light, so seeing in dim light becomes harder and adjusting to bright light becomes more difficult. This is why people over 60 need more ambient light to read and are bothered by bright sunlight and glaring.
- Look for eyeglasses that have photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating.
- Increase the ambient light in your home.
- Use timed lights that switch on and off throughout the day to ensure you’re getting a consistent amount of ambient light.
- Install motion-sensor lights that turn on automatically whenever you enter a room.
- Stay away from bare bulbs, chandeliers without shades or clear shades so there’s no glare in your home.
- Use individual lighting when you’re doing certain tasks like reading or writing.
2. Presbyopia. Another common vision problem among men and women, beginning when they’re 40 years old, is the inability to focus on something close. This condition is called presbyopia, which is the hardening of the lens inside your eye. It makes it harder for the lens to bend, which prevents it from focusing on objects that are close to you.
- Use reading, or bifocal, contact lenses or glasses, which can help correct presbyopia.
- Use additional light on reading or work materials to give your eyes enough light to focus on.
- Use over-the-counter reading glasses when working on a computer.
3. Loss of Peripheral Vision. Reduced peripheral vision is a common problem among older adults. However, losing your peripheral can make it extremely dangerous for you to drive.
- When driving, turn your head and look both ways when approaching any intersection.
- See your eye doctor to make sure you do not have glaucoma, as is often a result of complete loss of peripheral vision.
4. Yellowing of Lens. As with most things when they age, your eyes can gradually become more yellow. This affects your color perception. Differentiating between blues and greens becomes much more difficult. Most colors may appear duller, and contrasts between any colors will be less obvious. This can even have an effect on how you see things in front of you. It will be difficult for you to tell when one object ends and its background begins, making it difficult to see stairs in front of you or bumps in the road.
- Use warm colors when decorating your home (yellow, orange and red).
- Keep a red light on in darkened rooms so it will be easier for you to see. A regular night light will put off a glare that can bother your eyes.
- Use light bulbs that are specifically designed to improve color rendering, like halogen or fluorescent bulbs.
- Put colored tape along the edge of your stairs and steps in your home so it’s easier for you to get around without falling.
5. Dry Eyes. Your body produces fewer tears as you age, particularly for women after menopause. If you find yourself experiencing any type of burning, stinging or other eye discomfort, you may have dry eyes.
- Use artificial tears as needed throughout your day.
- Talk to your eye doctor about the best options for you. Some may suggest a dry eye medication.
6. Vitreous Detachment. When the gel-like vitreous within your eye starts to liquefy and push away from the retina, it can cause spots and floaters within your eye. Sometimes it can even cause flashes of light. Usually, this is harmless. However, some of the time it can be a signal that your retina is about to detach, which can cause blindness if it’s not treated immediately.
- If you experience flashes and floaters, see your eye doctor at once!
Step Three: Know the Difference between Common Vision Problems and Diseases
While the numerous vision ailments listed above are quite common among older adults, the ones listed in this section are much more serious. Should you experience any of these problems, see your eye doctor right away to see if anything can be done to relieve the problem.
1. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. A common eye condition among those age 50 and above, macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. This disease slowly destroys the part of the eye that provides you with sharp, central vision needed to see objects clearly. For many people, vision loss as a result of AMD doesn’t occur for a very long time. For others, the disease progresses faster and the vision loss sets in sooner. (Although macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in American seniors, having this disease doesn’t necessarily mean you will succumb to complete blindness. You will still be able to use your peripheral vision.)
2. Cataracts. Even though this is listed as an eye disease, this is one of the most common eye diseases among seniors and the one that is easily overcome. Cataract surgery today is very safe and effective. Usually 100 percent of the vision that was lost is restored after surgery.
3. Glaucoma. This is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and can worsen over time. Additionally, your risk of developing glaucoma increases with each decade after you turn 40. Some symptoms of glaucoma include: seeing halos around lights, redness in the eye, vision loss, hazy eyes, pain in the eye, narrowing of vision and nausea or vomiting. If you’re over 40 and have a family history of glaucoma, have a complete eye exam with an eye doctor every one to two years, whether you’ve been seeing symptoms or not.
4. Diabetic and Hypertensive Retinopathy. This condition causes damage to the retina as a result of diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure). It causes blurred vision that can eventually lead to blindness. Making sure you control your diabetes can slow the progression of this condition, resulting in symptoms that are manageable or ones that are beyond your control. If you have diabetes or hypertension, see your eye doctor regularly to have them monitor you closely for retinopathy.
5. Eye Cancer. This cancer starts in your eye. While the exact cause is not known, there’s a link between this cancer and sunlight.
- Limit your exposure to intense sunlight.
- Wear protective hats and clothing when you are in the sun.
- Use sunscreen.
- Wear UV-protected sunglasses.
Additional Steps to Take if Your Vision Starts Failing
2. Don’t Smoke.
3. Have Regular Eye Exams. Make sure you’re getting eye exams regularly. If you’re between 20 and 30, you should get an eye exam every two years unless you’re at risk for eye disorders and diseases or have been showing symptoms. If you’re showing symptoms, see the eye doctor immediately. If at high risk, see your eye doctor once a year. Discuss any concerns you have about your eyes and vision with your eye doctor. Make sure he/she knows if there is any history of eye problems in your family and if you have any other health problems. Also, you’ll want to make sure your eye doctor knows what you are taking, even over-the-counter medicine.
4. Use Caution When Driving. As your vision begins to worsen, you may need to limit how much you drive and at what times. If you have presbyopia, you may have trouble adjusting to darkness and bright light. This means you may need to stop driving at night. If your vision continues to worsen, you’ll need to give up driving altogether. When you’re having trouble with your vision, only drive when absolutely necessary.
5. Get Coverage. Finally, if for whatever reason you don’t have vision insurance, we have a few options we can offer you. First, we provide a free vision plan with any discount dental plan membership with us. This will be a small plan that will get you some great discounts on your vision care. Second, we offer an individual vision insurance plan called VSP, which is available in PA, GA, FL, TX, CA, and NY. For more information on this plan, give us a call at (855) 568-6447.