Growing older is sometimes difficult. One of the challenges that seniors face is changes in health status. High blood pressure and arthritis become more common, obesity and diabetes may develop, and our eyesight may become troublesome. For some seniors, the decreasing ability to see may be due to cataracts.
Cataracts are a common occurrence amongst seniors. In fact, over 3 million people, mostly seniors, are treated for cataracts each year in the U.S., and by age 80, over half of all adults have had a cataract develop.
Cataracts cause the lenses of the eyes to become cloudy or yellowed over time, making vision difficult. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes but they cannot “spread.” Cataracts may be more common in those who smoke, have been subjected to prolonged sunlight or other intense light or have certain medical conditions such as diabetes but they also occur in seniors who do not have extra risk factors.
The lenses of the eyes focus vision in the same way that a camera lens works. They are made of mostly water and proteins but over time, the proteins may begin to bunch together creating a cloudy section. As the cataract advances, it becomes larger and may “blur” the vision and make it difficult to see.
In addition to blurry or yellowed vision, symptoms of a cataract may also include double vision, poor night vision, excessive “glaring” or halos around lights, and frequent request for prescription lens adjustments. Glasses may decrease some symptoms in the early stages but as the condition advances, other treatment will be needed.
Cataracts are removed with cataract surgery, a simple day surgery. The cloudy lens is removed by a small incision and replaced with an artificial lens, known as an intraocular lens (IOL). An IOL is made of clear plastic and requires no special care. The incision will often be closed with only one stitch or “no stitch” and recovery is quick.
Cataracts are just one of the vision problems that may afflict seniors. Other conditions may be more serious and lead to permanent damage which causes blindness. These conditions may include:
Macular Degeneration is caused by leaky blood vessels at the back of the eye. It is generally irreversible and progressive, potentially leading to blindness. Vision disturbance begins as a “blank” spot in the center visual field and gets progressively worse. There is no current treatment for macular degeneration but some doctors recommend vitamins to slow the progression.
Glaucoma is caused by an increased pressure in the eye. Over time it may damage the retina in an irreversible fashion, leading to blindness. Glaucoma may be treatable with prescription eyedrops and by discontinuing medications which may make the condition worse.
Diabetes related blindness is caused by blood vessel destruction in the eye which is a result of blood sugar levels which remain high over a long period of time. Diabetic blindness is preventable with management of the disease but once it occurs, it is considered permanent.
As seniors are subject to a number of age related conditions which may affect the vision, it is imperative that seniors get an eye exam every year or more frequently. Often, catching a serious eye condition in the early stages can keep it from getting worse.
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