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University Eye Institute | This Month


Healthy Aging® Month is an annual monthly observance designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older. The mission of Healthy Aging® Month is to encourage local level Healthy Aging® events that promote taking responsibility for their health... be it physically, socially, mentally or financially.

Healthy Aging and Your Vision:

More than 40 million Americans are currently age 65 or older, and this number is expected to grow to more than 88 million by 2050. By that same year, the number of Americans with age-related eye diseases is expected to double, and the number of people living with low vision is projected to triple.

While vision loss is not a normal part of aging, older adults are at a higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions, including:

  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Dry Eye

Some eye diseases have no early symptoms but can be detected during a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Early detection and treatment are key to saving sight.

To learn more about healthy aging and vision, visit the National Eye Institute (NEI) page about Healthy Aging® Month.

Visit the Healthy Aging® website at healthyaging.net to access a variety of lifestyle resources and content.

Eye Openers: Common Eye Diseases in Older Adults

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition that damages the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. The impairment of vision can greatly affect one’s ability to properly care for themselves. AMD affects one in five adults over the age of 65.

Causes and Risk Factors

Although the exact causes of AMD are unknown, there are some risk factors that cannot be controlled:

  • Age
  • Family history of AMD
  • Skin/eye color (people with light colored skin/eyes)
  • Gender (women get AMD more often than men)

However, there are things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a healthy diet high in antioxidants
  • Exercise regularly
  • Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection

Symptoms

With AMD, you may experience changes in vision such as blurriness, distortion of images, and potential loss of central vision

Treatment

There is no cure for AMD, but there are some treatments; early diagnosis is key to preserving your eyesight. Adults 60+ should get a comprehensive eye exam every year to detect signs of AMD.

Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which is normally clear, and occurs when the proteins begin clustering together over a part of the lens. Cataracts are typically progressive and develop slowly over time.

Most cataracts are related to the natural aging process and are most common in individuals 60 and over. As of today, more than 24 million Americans have cataracts (one in six over 60 and one in two over 80). Although adults may develop cataracts during middle age, they are mild and do not affect one’s vision. It is not until after the age of 60 that a person may experience vision difficulties due to cataracts.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. However, they can also be managed and the progression slowed through regular, preventative eye and vision care.

Causes and Risk Factors

Aside from aging, other factors may put you at a higher risk for developing cataracts:

  • Medical issues like diabetes
  • Family history of early cataracts
  • Eye injury
  • Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Previous eye surgery

Symptoms

Cataracts develop gradually. Over time, you may experience:

  • Burry or doubled vision
  • Dull or yellow vision
  • Distorted, or “ghost,” images
  • Sensitivity to light

Usually, a cataract will start out small on one part of the eye’s lens. You may notice some blurring with your vision in that area. You may also develop sensitivity to light and/or have increased difficulty driving at night due to glare.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your eye care provider will perform a range of tests as part of your comprehensive eye examination. We recommend the following eye examination schedule to ensure you are practicing healthy vision:

  • Under 65- Every two years
  • Over 65- Annually
  • Higher risk for vision issues- Consult with your eye care provider.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is an eye disease that is linked to diabetes mellitus. There are currently almost 10 million Americans age 18 and over who have diabetic retinopathy. Over time, the disease can cause severe vision loss or blindness. And the longer someone has diabetes, the greater the chances of them having diabetic retinopathy.

Causes and Risk Factors

Anyone who has diabetes is at risk for DR

Symptoms

Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes and may present symptoms including:

  • Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters)
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Impaired color vision
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Vision loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye care provider will use a special lens to look inside your eye to see if blood vessels are blocked or leaking fluid. They can also identify whether abnormal blood vessels are growing.

Your doctor will discuss a treatment plan with you based on the results of your eye exam. Treatment may include medication. In some advanced cases, surgery may be an option. Laser surgery, injections, can be used to help “seal off” leaking blood vessels, which will also help reduce the swelling of the retina.

Individually, you can reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy by practicing a healthy lifestyle, which includes:

  • Watching and controlling your blood glucose level: Poor blood glucose control is one the strongest causes of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Taking care of yourself: Eating healthy and staying active are important factors in practicing a healthy lifestyle. High blood pressure, high cholesterol (blood fat) levels, and smoking also increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy. Talk to your primary care doctor before starting an exercise program. And if you have diabetes, see your doctor regularly to best manage the disease.
  • Seeing an eye doctor annually: For some people, the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy may be one of the first signs that they have diabetes. Adults and children with diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam at least once per year. If you have diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may recommend you have an eye exam more than once per year.