How Seniors Can Tell the Difference between Cataracts and Macular Degeneration

senior eye diseases

Changes in vision happen to almost every senior. 92% of elderly adults enrolled in Medicare wear glasses for vision correction. Most of those individuals wear glasses simply because our eyes change as we get older, leading to general vision loss. When your vision starts to deteriorate, you might begin to wonder if there is something more going on than the simple changes in your eyes that occur with age. Of course, if your vision is diminished, a medical alert system is a smart choice to keep you protected.

If you’re worried about what’s happening with your eyes, it’s vitally important to visit your eye doctor. They have the means to examine your eyes and figure out what exactly is going on. If it turns out that there’s something more serious there, you aren’t alone: American Family Physician reports that one in every three seniors suffers from a vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. Two of the serious issues that are more common among seniors include macular degeneration and cataracts.

What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration occurs when someone loses their central vision. This makes it hard to see finer details. But even as they lose their central vision, their peripheral vision remains clear. Though the condition can be caused by chronic illness or injury, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is caused by the effects of age on the macula. The macula is part of the retina and controls sharp central vision[1].

You might have wet AMD or dry AMD. There are distinctive differences in each type[2].

·         Wet macular degeneration occurs in 10-15% of all AMD cases. This happens when abnormal blood vessels appear around the retina. Those blood vessels can begin to leak, which is why it’s called “wet” AMD. The leaking of proteins and lipids into the eye can compromise your vision.

·         Dry macular degeneration is much more common, affecting between 85-90% of those diagnosed with the condition. In this case, yellow deposits known as drusen collect in the retina, eventually compromising your vision. This is often less severe than wet AMD and usually happens more gradually.

The Bright Focus Foundation says that AMD is a leading cause of irreversible blindness around the world. The risk of developing it stands at about 2% for those between the ages of 50 and 59, increasing to 30% for those aged 75 and older.

What are Cataracts?

According to the National Library of Medicine, cataracts are “a clouding or opacification of the normally clear lens of the eye or its capsule (surrounding transparent membrane) that obscures the passage of light through the lens to the retina of the eye.” As the clouding of the eye prevents more and more light from getting through, your vision can become dim enough that it’s hard to read or drive.

Unlike AMD, cataracts can be reversible – surgery to replace the cloudy leans with an artificial clear one can easily restore vision. Cataracts are not unusual, as half of all individuals over the age of 80 have cataracts or have undergone surgery to remove them[3].

Different Symptoms for Each Condition

Though macular degeneration and cataracts both result in low vision, the way they present as we get older can be quite different. When you have macular degeneration, you might experience dark or white spots in your central vision. Objects can appear to be of distorted shape, and straight lines might appear wavy.

With cataracts, you might notice strong sensitivity to light but at the same time, you need brighter light to see well enough to read and do other close work. You might see halos around lights and develop double vision in one eye[4].

Both conditions can lead to cloudy or blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night, trouble with seeing colors, and frequent changes in your prescriptions for eyeglasses.

When you’re suffering from any sort of vision changes, they can easily affect your balance and stability as you walk. Things that worked before to keep you steadier on your feet, such as high-contrast colors at entryways, might not be as effective anymore. You might not get as much benefit from bright lights that were intended to illuminate the path before you. You might find that you easily trip over things simply because you didn’t see them, such as the threshold at the door or an uneven floor or sidewalk.

To that end, it’s important to stay safe with a medical alert device. Though the device itself can’t prevent a fall, it can certainly help you avoid the serious consequences afterward. Instead of lying on the floor and waiting for help, you can simply press the button in the medical alert pendant or wristband. Within seconds, help can be secured. From something as simple as calling a neighbor to come over and help you stand up to contacting emergency services to get them headed to your door immediately, Alert1 Medical Alert Systems stands ready to send the right assistance to you.

What Causes These Conditions?

AMD is often caused by overall lifestyle issues, including not getting proper nutrition, a lack of exercise, and high blood pressure.

Cataracts are often caused by things more targeted to the eye itself, including injury to the eye at some point, past eye surgery, and the long-term use of steroids to treat other conditions.

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing either one of these problems. Genetics certainly plays a role – for instance, Caucasian women are more likely to develop both conditions. Genetics are obviously out of your control. But two things that are well within your control – smoking and sun exposure – have been shown to increase your odds of developing cataracts or AMD. According to the Mayo Clinic, you are at greater risk of cataracts if you have diabetes, are overweight, have high blood pressure, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Fortunately, a trained ophthalmologist can easily spot each condition through simple, non-invasive eye examinations and put you on the path to treatment.

What is the Treatment for These Eye Problems?

The treatment for AMD and cataracts is quite different. Macular degeneration cannot be reversed, but the symptoms can be controlled and the progression of the disease can be slowed down. Certain supplements can help slow the vision loss from dry AMD, including[5]:

·         Vitamin C

·         Vitamin E

·         Copper

·         Zinc

In addition to the supplements your eye doctor prescribes for you, your diet can play a role in fighting AMD. Make sure to get plenty of dark leafy greens, fish, and yellow fruits and vegetables. (Why yellow? They’re loaded with antioxidants and beta-carotene, which is great for your eyes[6].)

Those who have wet AMD have a tougher road for treatment. Medication can stop the growth of the blood vessels that lead to wet AMD. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that for the vast majority of those who take it, these treatments stabilize their vision; for about one-third of those who take it, the medication can improve vision.

Though some supplements can help those with cataracts, the only truly effective treatment is surgery. This simple, quick surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens[7]. Healing from surgery is usually quick and the improvement in vision is permanent, as cataracts can’t form on the artificial lens.

But what if you have both AMD and cataracts? If you’re hit with the double-whammy, your eye doctor will determine which condition is causing the most problems for you and start treating that right away. According to the National Eye Institute, there is no need to worry that cataract surgery will worsen AMD; studies have found no link between surgery for cataracts and development of macular degeneration.

When Your Vision Starts to Worsen

When you are dealing with low vision, it’s definitely time to see your eye doctor. Only a thorough eye exam can determine what’s going wrong and what you might be able to do to fix the problem. Keep in mind that while going to the eye doctor might seem like quite the chore, it’s much better than suffering from a fall and dealing with the consequences of that, which might include significant head injury or fractures. Correcting low vision is an essential part of general safety and fall prevention.

For elderly adults with low vision, a medical alert system with fall detection is a great choice. The dire consequences of a fall can include serious pain from fractures, injuries to your brain from bumping your head, and the possibility of lingering on the floor while you hope someone shows up to assist you soon. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems can ensure that help is on the way immediately, which means you get the medical attention you need right away – or if your fall wasn’t that severe, you get the assistance you need to get up from the floor and get your bearings. Either way, a personal emergency response solution gives important peace of mind not just for those with vision loss, but for their loved ones too.