How to Know if You Need Bifocals or Trifocals


Are you having trouble seeing things lately? You might have eyeglasses that you are so accustomed to wearing that they almost feel like a part of you. But as we age, even the lenses that have always worked so well for us might stop fulfilling all our vision needs. That’s typical for seniors. And unfortunately, it often takes a while for someone to upgrade their lenses to what they really need.

According to AARP, 3.9 million older Americans who wear glasses aren’t wearing the prescription they really need to properly correct their vision. That can lead to a greater risk of falls. Though a senior emergency response solution from Alert1 can provide excellent peace of mind for elderly adults, taking the steps necessary to correct your vision properly is key.

Most of us are familiar with single-vision lenses, in which one prescription covers the entire surface of the lens. Single-vision eyeglasses can usually correct your sight during the early years of eye trouble. According to the Vision Impact Institute, three out of every four Americans need some form of eye correction, and the vast majority of those choose to go with glasses. The need for corrective lenses jumps with age: only 59% of those aged 25 to 39 wear corrective lenses, but a whopping 93% of those aged 65 to 75 wear them![1]

And as we age and our vision becomes worse, single-vision lenses just aren’t enough anymore. Seeing things that are close-up can become increasingly difficult. For instance, imagine walking through the zoo. You might be able to see the animals just fine, but the moment you look down at your zoo map, you can’t see anything clearly. You have to take off your glasses and let your eyes adjust, moving the map around until it’s at just the right distance to read it properly.

Not only is this annoying and time-consuming, it might also be dangerous. If you’re walking and trying to see something close-up at the same time, you’re obviously distracted. That can lead to balance issues, which can easily lead to falls. This is a good reason to have a medical alert pendant or watch on you at all times, especially an alert device with fall detection.

But it’s also a very good reason to get bifocals or even trifocals.

How to Know When Your Single-Vision Lenses Aren’t Enough

Though your eyes change throughout your life, when you hit your early 40s, things tend to speed up. Most people will notice a dramatic change in their vision starting in mid-life thanks to a condition known as presbyopia. The American Optometric Association defines presbyopia as “a vision condition in which the shape of the crystalline lens of your eye changes.” If you have already been diagnosed as being farsighted or nearsighted, presbyopia can make the situation worse. Symptoms of presbyopia include[2]:

·         Reading close-up text can lead to eye fatigue and headaches

·         Holding things at a normal distance makes them blurry

·         To read properly, you must hold the material at arm’s length

·         You become physically exhausted after working on projects that require reading

·         You require brighter light to see properly to read or even do normal activities[3]

This is happening because the lens inside your eye has become less flexible. That lens once had the ability to bend easily, and that allowed it to bend light rays. That’s how you were able to focus on objects in front of you. Once the lens begins to lose flexibility, subtle vision issues begin. They might even start in childhood, but they are so mild that they don’t cause true problems until adulthood. You might notice that every time you go to the eye doctor, your vision has changed a little bit more, requiring a stronger eyeglass or contact prescription.

This continues until one fateful visit when your doctor asks, “Have you ever considered bifocals?”

What are Bifocals?

Bifocals are combination lenses. What they do is described in the name itself: “bi” means two and “focal” means focus. Bifocal lenses provide you with two focuses. The top of the lens allows for a clear view of items in the distance, while the bottom of the lens allows you to focus on things that are close up, like reading material[4]. The segment at the bottom might be in the shape of a half-moon, circle, rectangle, or take up the entire bottom half of the lens[5].

There was a time when people used two pairs of glasses: one for distance and day-to-day activities, and another for reading and other close work. Some still do this today, especially if their issues with presbyopia are slight. But since Benjamin Franklin created the first bifocal lens in the 1780s, we’ve been able to ditch reading glasses for an all-in-one solution[6].

What are Trifocals?

As with bifocals, the use of the lenses is in the name: “tri” means three and “focal” means focus. Trifocals are similar to bifocals but instead of having two segments, one for close vision and one for distance vision, there are three prescriptions in the lens. The additional third prescription is designed to allow you to better see things in the middle distance, such as your computer screen. If bifocals allow you to easily see near and far without blurring but you have trouble with the area 18 to 24 inches away, you might need trifocals[7].

What is a Progressive Lens?

You might have noticed that older bifocal lenses have a clear line in them that denotes the change in prescription. Sometimes eyeglasses are created with that same style today, though it is becoming more common for a seamless transition from one power to another. This transition is known as a progressive lens. It has long been used for bifocals but it’s also available for trifocals. These glasses not only do away with the line that might slightly impair your vision, they also look more attractive – and for those who may feel uncomfortable about wearing bifocals or trifocals, progressive lenses are more aesthetically pleasing.

Are They Hard to Use?

No matter the type of lens you choose, it can take some time to get used to the unusual vision pattern of a bifocal or trifocal lens. Bifocals are a bit easier because there are only two prescriptions and they tend to be pretty evident when you look through the lenses. Trifocals are a bit trickier. Be prepared for a learning curve that has you moving your head a bit before you get accustomed to simply moving your eyes instead. Also be prepared for a few days of headaches and eye strain as you adjust. Though this can be annoying, stick with it – once your eyes adjust and you can use the glasses appropriately, you may just wonder how you ever lived without them!

But Wait – There’s More!

In addition to bifocals, trifocals, and progressive options, there are still more options that can help seniors see better. Multifocal progressive contact lenses are for those who can’t wear glasses or prefer not to. These contact lenses have one power in the center of the lens that gradually changes to a different power on the edges. This usually provides a seamless transition from distance vision to near vision. These can vary in design so it often takes several tries to find the one that’s right for you.

There are also special-purpose bifocal and trifocal lenses available for those who need a particular type of lens for their job or hobby. For instance, “computer glasses” are designed for those who work with computers and stare at screens for extended periods of time. They have features that block blue light, reduce eye muscle fatigue and make it easier to see things that are about 20 to 26 inches in front of you.

Some of the glasses available are rather technical, such as those designed specifically for those who work with close objects. For instance, vehicle mechanics need a different type of lens to be able to work with their tools as well as on the undercarriage of a vehicle. To help them see properly, a “Double-D” multifocal lens has the distance vision lens in the center, the intermediate lens at the top, and the near vision lens in the bottom. This unusual design of flipping the near and intermediate vision segments allows a seamless transition for the unique vision needs of a mechanic[8].

These might also simply be known as “occupational” lenses – and there are many options out there for those who work in a wide variety of jobs. But there are also lenses designed specifically for certain hobbies, such as the “golfer’s bifocal.” This includes the typical distance vision but the near vision segment is smaller than usual and placed on the lower outside corner of just one lens. This allows for proper vision on the golf course so you can see and hit the ball properly, but gives you enough near vision that you can write on the scorecard.

There are other options to choose from that you might be familiar with from single-vision glasses, such as an anti-reflective coating that makes it easier to avoid glare when driving at night, or photochromic lenses that allow you to move in and out of the sun without switching from your regular glasses to sunglasses. These are sometimes known as transition lenses. And speaking of sunglasses, when you choose your bifocal or trifocal frames, you can also choose sunglasses that have the same lens prescription, making it easier to see during the day when you’re outdoors.

See Well and Stay Safe

No matter what new glasses you get when your doctor initiates the bifocal or trifocal discussion, remember that it takes some getting used to any new vision prescription. That’s especially true with a new type of lens that requires you to move your eye in a certain way to get the most out of it. For the ultimate in staying safe, a medical alert system with fall detection is an excellent idea for any senior. There is peace of mind in seeing better with your new lenses, and in knowing that help is standing by 24/7 at the push of a button.