Preventing Vision Loss In Older Adults

By Denise S. Pott, LCSW,
Assistance Home Care

Vision loss is a common manifestation of aging. According to the American Association for the Blind, more than 6.5 million Americans over 65 have a severe visual impairment. The three most common causes of major vision loss among seniors are: Macular degeneration, Glaucoma and Cataracts.

These ailments have been called “silent stealers of sight” because they progress so gradually that they are frequently unnoticed until vision loss has become severe. As with many medical conditions, early detection can be key to effective treatment. By being aware of the signs of these disorders, and having frequent eye exams, you can spot these problems before they become too severe.

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. By way of example, Imagine wearing glasses with the central part of each lens blacked out. Because AMD affects central vision, which is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving, it can severely impair a persons functioning. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the United States for people over 65. The exact cause of AMD is not known, however some people are known to be at greater risk.

There are risk factors you cannot control, including:
Age: The greatest risk factor for AMD is age. By the age of 75 an individual has a 30% risk of developing macular degeneration.
Family History: The risk of AMD is three times higher if an immediate family member has the condition.
Skin and eye color: People with light colored skin and eyes are more likely to develop AMD.
Gender: Women get AMD more often than men. The good news is that there are risk factors you can control. They include: Smoking: Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD compared to nonsmokers. Nutrition: A diet that does not contain enough of certain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, lutein and zinc may be a risk factor. These nutrients can be found in some fruits, nuts, and dark leafy greens. Obesity: Overweight patients with AMD are more than twice as likely to develop advanced forms of the disease compared with people of normal body weight.
High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol: Have been linked to the development of advanced AMD. Excessive Exposure to Sunlight: Research has shown that excessive ultraviolet light may increase the risk for developing AMD. Remember to wear sunglasses to block UV and blue light when outdoors!

Glaucoma: Most people who have glaucoma feel fine and do not notice a change in their vision at first because the initial loss of vision is of side or peripheral vision, and the visual acuity or sharpness of vision is maintained until late in the disease. Once vision is lost, it generally cannot be restored. Loss of peripheral vision may mean that you must turn your head from side to side to see a normal field of vision, and can make driving extremely difficult and even dangerous. Glaucoma affects over four million Americans, many of whom do not know they have the disease.

You are at increased risk for glaucoma if your parents or siblings have the disease, if you are African American or Latino, and possibly if you are diabetic or have cardiovascular disease. The risk of glaucoma also increases with age.

Currently, regular eye exams are the best form of prevention against significant glaucoma damage.

Cataracts: Cataracts are by far the most common eye ailment in older adults. By age 80, fifty percent of the population have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye with a buildup of protein. Symptoms include blurred vision, diminished color perception, and glare. Although most cataract symptoms are mild, if left untreated they can lead to near total blindness. Fortunately, cataracts can be treated with a simple and quick surgical procedure that can restore vision.

Remember, frequent check-ups and being aware of symptoms are the key to early detection that can save your sight. If you already have impaired vision from one of these conditions, ask your ophthalmologist for a referral to the Low Vision Clinic at the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired. You can try out and purchase a variety of devices that may help you to function more normally with decreased vision. Visit their web site at www.slsbvi.org.

If you or someone you know is being impacted by vision problems Assistance Home Care can provide in-home caregivers to help you remain active and in your own home. For more information, give us a call or visit our web site at www.assistanceathome.com. St. Charles 636-724-4357; Webster Groves 314-631-1989; Ellisville 636-200-2909.