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Most of us look forward to enjoying the golden years of retirement. As we get older, we undergo lifestyle changes and similarly experience physical changes.
One of those changes has a direct impact on our quality of life – our vision.
Among the most common eye diseases that surface as we get older are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages when one of these vision problems develops. The key is to catch the disease in its infancy to prevent potential future vision loss.
According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in the industrialized world. There are two forms of AMD: exudative AMD, also known as wet AMD, which causes central vision loss; and nonexudative AMD, or dry AMD, the most common form.
The symptoms of either form of AMD may progress slowly or appear suddenly. The first sign of vision change a person may notice is wavy lines or a central blind spot. However, AMD is hard to detect if it occurs in one eye, as usually the good eye will compensate for the vision change. There is no pain involved with AMD, so people tend to want to “blink away” the problem.
Glaucoma is a group of disorders wherein the optic nerve inside the eye sustains damage progressively over time. Glaucoma produces a gradual visual field loss from the periphery (side vision) and eventually leads to complete vision loss if not treated in time.
The most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma. One of the leading causes of blindness, it cannot be prevented, and sufferers are generally asymptomatic until most of the visual fields are lost. Detect glaucoma early via a routine annual eye exam.
The National Institutes of Health reported in 2010 that 10.9 million seniors had diabetes – the disease affects nearly one in three seniors. The leading cause of blindness in people with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.
Fluctuating blood-sugar levels can lead to vision changes at the onset of the disease. A person with poorly controlled diabetes may find that his or her vision changes from day to day, or even hour to hour. Eyeglasses that used to work no longer seem to help, or an optometrist may find a dramatic optical prescription change. The disease may cause minor or dramatic bleeding in the retina.
Vision-threatening retinopathy develops in approximately 8 percent of the adult population with diabetes. Symptoms may include intermittent blurry vision or blotches in the vision. Sometimes there may be no symptoms at all. I highly recommend that people with diabetes undergo a complete eye exam once a year with a primary eye-care doctor.
As we age, a change occurs in the lens of the eye, going from clear to cloudy due to a breakdown of proteins inside. Many factors can speed the progression of cataracts, including diabetes, long-term use of steroids, chronic ultraviolet-light exposure (too much sunlight without protection), smoking, traumatic injury or surgery for another eye problem.
Common symptoms are filmy or cloudy vision, light sensitivity, seeing halos around lights, loss of color intensity and seeing double. Regular annual eye exams can detect changes in the lens, and a primary eye-care doctor can make the evaluation for a cataract surgery procedure.
Early detection and prevention
Be aware of the early signs of age-related vision problems, including tripping over objects when walking, frequent squinting, problems with driving and even mismatched clothing.
To minimize the progression of age-related vision diseases, refrain from smoking, eat healthful foods, exercise and wear UV-protected sunglasses and appropriate clothing when outdoors – even on overcast days.
Most importantly, to catch the onset of age-related vision problems, see your eye doctor for a comprehensive annual exam. You will be more likely to enjoy your golden years if you can see the fruits of your labor!