Just as our physical strength decreases with age, our eyes also exhibit an age-related decline in performance — particularly as we reach our 60s and beyond.
Some age-related eye changes, such as presbyopia, are perfectly normal and don’t signify any sort of disease process. While cataracts can be considered an age-related disease, they are extremely common among seniors and can be readily corrected with cataract surgery. Some of us, however, will experience more serious age-related eye diseases that have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as we grow older. These conditions include glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
1. Presbyopia: After you pass the milestone age of 40, you’ll notice it’s more difficult to focus on objects up close because of presbyopia. This is a perfectly normal loss of focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside your eye. For a time, you can compensate for this gradual decline in focusing ability by holding reading material farther away from your eyes.
But eventually you will need reading glasses, progressive lenses or multifocal contact lenses. Some corrective surgery options for presbyopia also are available, such as corneal inlays, monovision LASIK, conductive keratoplasty and refractive lens exchange.
2. Cataracts: Even though cataracts are considered an age-related eye disease, they are so common among seniors that they can also be classified as a normal aging change. As you enter your 70s, the percentage is even higher. It’s estimated that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts.
Thankfully, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and so effective that 100 percent of vision lost to cataract formation usually is restored. If you are noticing vision changes due to cataracts, don’t hesitate to discuss symptoms with your eye doctor. It’s often better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far.
3. Macular degeneration: Also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness among American seniors.According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than two million Americans currently have age-related macular degeneration, and due to the aging of the U.S. population, that number is expected to more than double to 5.4 million by 2050.
4. Glaucoma: Your risk of developing glaucoma increases with each decade after age 40, from around 1 percent in your 40s to up to 12 percent in your 80s. The number of Americans with glaucoma will increase by 50 percent (to 3.6 million) by 2020.
5. Diabetic retinopathy: More than 10 million Americans over age 40 are known to have diabetes, and among known diabetics over age 40, studies estimate that 40 percent have some degree of diabetic retinopathy that could lead to permanent vision loss.
A healthy diet and wise lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, are your best natural defenses against vision loss as you age. Also, you need to have regular eye exams with a caring and knowledgeable optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Be sure to discuss with your eye doctor all concerns you have about your eyes and vision. Tell him or her about any history of eye problems in your family, as well as any other health problems you may have.
Your eye doctor should know what medications you take (including non-prescription vitamins, herbs and supplements). This will help with appropriate recommendations to keep your eyes healthy and functioning at their optimum level throughout your lifetime.