How Vision Changes for Seniors

senior vision changes

If you’re a senior and you’ve found yourself squinting to read a road sign or pulling a book closer to your face to see the print, you’re not alone. Visions changes occur as we age. About 5.5% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 years of age have some vision loss, according to the American Foundation for the Blind, and that number jumps to 12% between the ages of 45 and 64. Unfortunately, the older you get, the worse it gets, as most people who wear corrective lenses can attest. Between the ages of 65 and 75, 12.2% of individuals had some vision loss, and 15.2% of those aged 75 and older reported it too[1].

It’s important to remember that just because you might need corrective lenses doesn’t mean there is anything actually “wrong” with your eyes. The normal process of aging often results in trouble with vision. The most common age-related change comes from hardening of the lens in your eyes, known as presbyopia. This makes it more difficult to focus on objects that are up close, such as a book, newspaper, or computer screen. Presbyopia isn’t a disease; it’s just a natural change over time, and it often starts at about age 40[2]. If you start feeling headaches or have “tired eyes” at the end of the day, this might be the culprit.

It might take some time before we notice vision changes, as the mind tries to adjust to the shift and often does a great job of it. And even if you notice the changes, it might only happen at certain times, such as when you’re trying to read small print or looking at a sign far away.

Vision changes might be subtle, but they can be enough to mean that you don’t notice that little hump in a rug until you trip over it. That’s why it’s so important to consider a medical alert pendant as you age, especially one that offers fall detection. Falls often seem to come out of the blue, but what if it was an accident just waiting to happen because your vision was beginning to change? Medical alert technology provides peace of mind.

The Natural Aging Process

Several changes occur in the eyes as we get older. These changes combine to create vision issues that send you to the eye doctor for a new set of glasses every few years. Here’s a summary of what happens to our eyes and eyesight during the aging process[3]: 

As we get older, the size of our pupils changes. They become smaller and less responsive to changes in lighting. In fact, those in their 60s need three times more ambient light to see comfortably to read than they did in their 20s. Ever notice that when you come out of a dark building, such as a theater, the sunlight can be so bright that it actually blinds you for a moment? This becomes more common as you age and your pupils get smaller.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to employ bright lighting as an aging in place solution. You need better light to see trip hazards that could lead to falls and it’s yet another good reason to choose a button alarm to protect you at home and on the go.

Your peripheral vision refers to the size of your visual field. When you see something “out of the corner of your eye” you are using peripheral vision. That field of vision naturally narrows as we age, making it tougher to see things without turning your head to look directly at them.

Your eyes get drier as you get older. Burning and stinging of the eyes is often a result of producing fewer natural tears. This can make your vision blurry. Dry eye medication can clear that up, but the problem of dry eyes usually doesn’t reverse itself, since it’s a normal part of aging.

You also lose sensitivity in your color vision as you age. This means that the contrast between colors becomes less noticeable and colors look dull, not as bright and vivid as they used to. This loss of color perception doesn’t have any sort of treatment. For your safety, it’s important to invest in high-contrast strips on stairs, thresholds, and other areas that might lead to a fall risk, as well as the use of a medical alert watch or pendant.

Finally, vitreous detachment becomes an issue as we age. That term might sound quite frightening, but it’s usually a harmless condition, and you might have already noticed it – the hallmark is a “floater” or “spot” in your eyes, or an occasional flash of light that seems to come out of nowhere, at random. And while this might not be a serious issue, it’s important to check with your eye doctor if you are seeing those little floaters to be sure you’re not dealing with something more serious.

Serious Eye Problems for Seniors

Here are a few of the more serious problems you might encounter with your aging eyes and eyesight as you get older:

·         Cataracts. Because they are so common, some experts now consider them a part of normal aging. Cataracts occur when proteins build up in the eye over time, forming a cloudy lens behind the iris. Estimates vary in how many people have cataracts, but the general rule of thumb is that about half of those aged 65 or older have some cataract formation in their eyes[4].  Fortunately, cataract surgery is quite successful and is becoming rather common, with at least 10 million people across the globe having the surgery each year, according to a report from Community Eye Health Journal. Many elderly patients are told they must wait to have surgery until the cataracts are “ripe” for removal. During this waiting period, vision suffers. Alert1 offers affordable fall detection alert systems for those concerned about the effects of living with compromised vision.

·         Macular degeneration. Sometimes called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this is the leading cause of blindness among the elderly. According to the Bright Focus Foundation, at least 11 million people in the United States are dealing with the disease. Macular degeneration happens when the macula, a part of your retina, becomes damaged. This damage occurs over time and often is not painful, so you might not notice it until it’s already begun to affect your vision.

·         Glaucoma. This condition is related to pressure in the eyes. Higher pressure often shows no early symptoms or pain, so it’s important to get regular testing. It can be treated if caught early, but if it’s not treated, it can quickly lead to blindness. The testing is very simple and can be part of a routine eye exam once you hit your 40s. 

·         Diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, this disorder is something you need to worry about. It happens when the small blood vessels in the eye leak fluid, leading to blurred vision (though you might not notice symptoms at first). Eventually you’ll see floaters, blind spots, or cloudy vision. The eye tries to heal itself by creating new blood vessels to feed the retina, but these are fragile and can bleed, thus leading to permanent damage. Excellent control of blood sugar levels can help you avoid this complication.

You might face other issues that are more serious than the issues typically related to the natural aging of the eyes, such as retinal detachment, excessive tears, diseases of the cornea, conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye”), and problems with your eyelids[5]. Any changes in your eyes and vision should be reported to your eye doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

How to Prevent Bigger Problems

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are a few ways you can stave off age-related eye problems or treat them if you already have them.

·         See your doctor. Your primary care doctor will check you for systemic issues or diseases that can lead to vision problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

·         See your eye doctor. A yearly visit to your ophthalmologist can help ensure that your eyes stay as healthy as possible. They can spot problems well before you notice them and start taking action to correct or slow down the progression of them.

·         Have a full eye exam. This includes getting your pupils dilated at least once a year, getting checked for glaucoma, and going through other simple tests that will determine things like how wide your field of vision is.

Think about making some lifestyle changes too. Reduce your risk of senior vision problems with these steps[6]:

·         Stop smoking. Smoking affects every part of the body in a negative way, including the eyes.

·         Eat the right foods. Look for foods that have good things the eyes need, like carrots and dark leafy greens.

·         Control chronic conditions. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the culprits in vision problems; controlling them can help keep your eyes healthier.

·         Stay physically active. This is good for you in every way and can help control those chronic conditions we just mentioned.

·         Protect against UV rays. Wide-brimmed hats while outside, ideally paired with sunglasses that block UV light, are a great idea.

·         Take a break. Focusing on anything for too long, such as a computer screen, handheld device, or book, can lead to eye strain, no matter the age. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds (at least) to help prevent tired eyes.

When Eye Trouble Becomes an Emergency

Though there are plenty of changes associated with an aging eye, there are some things that shouldn’t occur – and if they do, it’s an emergency that should send you to the eye doctor immediately. If you notice any of these issues, the National Institute on Aging suggests getting immediate care:

·         Eye pain

·         Double vision

·         Redness or swelling of the eye or eyelid

·         Sudden blindness

·         Everything suddenly looks blurry

·         Flashes of light or new floaters in your vision

If you notice these issues, get help as soon as possible. If you have a medical alarm pendant or bracelet , assistance can be reached with the press of a button. Stay safe!