Cataracts 101: A Guide for Senior Caregivers

By June 4, 2014Healthy Aging

If you’ve noticed a cloudy film covering a senior loved one’s eyes, the condition could be caused by cataracts. As we get older, the eye’s lens gradually changes and becomes less transparent. Since age related changes are a catalyst for cataracts, they are extremely common among seniors.
According to the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have opted for cataract surgery. So, what causes cataracts, how is vision affected and what treatment options are available?

Sight and Cataracts
In order to see, light must pass through the lens of the eye. The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil. A healthy lens is clear and able to change shape, allowing light to easily pass through to the retina. As seniors continue aging, the lens simply doesn’t work as efficiently as it used to. When cells of the lens change and water content is altered, the lens begins to take on a cloudy appearance. This is known as a cataract. With a layer of cloudiness covering the lens, light can no longer pass directly through and vision problems can develop. A cataract can occur in one or both eyes, but cannot spread from one eye to the other.

What Causes Cataracts?
Proteins of the eye’s lens must be arranged in a specific way in order to keep the lens clear. Age causes some of those proteins to clump, forming a cataract on a small part of the lens. Over time, cataracts can grow larger and cloud an increasing portion of the lens.

Physicians don’t know why the eye’s lens changes with aging, but several factors are thought to cause cataracts. Those include:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Eye trauma
  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Previous eye surgeries

Symptoms of Cataracts
The most common symptoms of a cataract are:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Colors appear dull
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seeing a halo around light sources
  • Double vision

Treatment for Cataracts
When cataract symptoms appear, seniors might be able to temporarily improve vision using new glasses, magnifying glasses, brighter lighting or doctor recommended visual aid tools.

When cataracts progress and create serious vision problems, surgery is the only effective treatment. It is the most commonly performed surgery in the US, with over 3 million patients undergoing the procedure each year. During the surgery, skilled ophthalmologists simply remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens implant.

If a senior loved one develops the classic signs and symptoms of cataracts, speak to his family physician and map out a plan of care.

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