As September is Eye Care Awareness month,
You’ve Earned It looks at the common causes for vision loss in seniors
As we reach our 60’s and beyond, our vision changes – this is a fact of life. According to the American Association for the Blind, more than 6.5 million Americans over 65 have a severe visual impairment. So knowing what to expect and when to seek professional help is important.
The most common causes for major loss of vision amongst seniors are:
Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas appearing in the lens of the eye, generally interfering with normal vision. Cataracts often develop in both eyes, but one is often worse than the other. Symptoms include a decrease in contrast sensitivity, a dulling of colours and increased sensitivity to glare. Cataracts are most common in elderly people and usually result in surgery to remove the cataract which is generally very successful.
AMD or age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease affecting the centre of the light sensitive retina at the back of the eye. This causes loss of central vision, but peripheral or side vision remains unaffected. AMD affects more than a third of Caucasian seniors aged 75+, and can present safety risks to seniors who live alone.
At risk are seniors and people who have a family history of glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases with increased pressure in the globe, resulting in nerve damage, peripheral vision loss but rarely pain. Simple treatment can slow the progression of vision loss. It can affect a senior to the point where the person is unable to live an independent life.
This is a condition that results from damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina and occurs in people suffering from diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy results in clouding of vision and can cause blindness. Early treatment with laser can prevent progression of the disease, but most important is the control of blood sugar levels.
Detachment of the retina
Detachment of the retina is a tearing or separation of the retina from the underlying tissue. It usually occurs spontaneously and if not treated promptly, can cause permanent vision loss. It occurs as a result of changes to the gel-like vitreous fluid that fills the back of the eye. It can also be caused by trauma to the eye or head, inflammatory disorders of the eye or even through health problems like advanced diabetes. Early symptoms are unexpected light flashes, floaters in the field of vision or a sense of a “curtain” in the peripheral vision.
This is a common and sometimes relentless condition, particularly in seniors. This is a condition where the person has an insufficient amount or quality of tears to lubricate and nourish the surface of the eye, which is needed to provide clear vision.
Some of the above conditions have been called the “silent stealers of sight”. They progress so gradually that they are frequently unnoticed until such time as the vision loss has become significant. However, if they are detected early, then effective treatment can be given to the patient.
Health problems affecting other parts of your body can also affect your vision. For example, those individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure are at greater risk of developing vision problems, and diabetics specifically should have regular screening.
What’s the answer?
With many eye diseases having no early symptoms and no pain, seniors should have regular, even annual eye examinations so that any potential problems can be detected before they become too severe, even if you are not experiencing vision loss.
Of course, if you notice any change in vision, consult your ophthalmologist immediately. Maintaining good eye health could be as simple as healthy lifestyle choices and regular eye examinations.
Article by You’ve Earned It
Content verified by:
Professor David Meyer
MBChB, FCFP(SA), HonnsBSc, MMed(Ophth), FCOphth(SA), PhD
Professor and Head: Ophthalmology
Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences
University of Stellenbosch