The American Academy of Ophthalmology – the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons – urges older adults to take care of their eyes as they age to ensure longer independence and wellbeing.
In the United States, one in six Americans over age 65 has a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. This is often caused by common eye conditions and diseases. Among older Americans, visual impairment is one of the most significant contributors to loss of independence. It is also associated with a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions, falls, injuries, depression and social isolation.
Though many vision-impairing eye diseases are age-related — such as cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration — in most case, proactive steps and preventative care can help preserve sight. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that seniors follow these tips to help protect their vision:
Get an Eye Exam
Adults age 65 and older should get a medical eye exam every one or two years. Regular eye exams are crucial in detecting changes in vision, which may be a symptom of a treatable eye disease or condition.
Seniors who have not had an eye exam in the last three years and for whom cost is a concern may qualify for EyeCare America (www.eyecareamerica.org), a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which delivers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older through its corps of more than 6,000 volunteer ophthalmologists.
“Some eye diseases have no obvious symptoms in their early stages unless detected during a comprehensive eye exam, so older adults should make these appointments a priority,” said Charles P. Wilkinson, M.D., ophthalmologist and chair of EyeCare America. “Detecting and treating eye problems early can make all the difference in saving a person’s vision, as well as their independence.”
Know the Symptoms of Vision Loss
Signs of vision loss may become apparent as reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving a car and/or recognizing faces become more difficult. Vision loss that may be noticed by friends and family include missing, bumping into or knocking over objects, stepping hesitantly and squinting or tilting the head when trying to focus.
Make Eye-Healthy Food Choices
A diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains benefits the entire body, including the eyes. Studies show that foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin are good for eye health.These nutrients are linked to lower risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and dry eye later in life. Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and cold water fish.
Avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke – or quitting, for current smokers – are some of the best investments everyone can make for long-term eye health. Smoking increases risk for eye diseases like cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and raises the risks for cardiovascular diseases that indirectly influence eyes’ health. Tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, also worsens dry eye.
Maintain Normal Blood Pressure, Cholesterol and Glucose Levels
High blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) levels all increase the risk of vision loss from an eye disease. Keeping these under control will not only help one’s eyes, but also overall health.
Get Regular Physical Activity
Not only does 30 minutes of exercise a day benefit one’s heart, waistline and energy level, it can also do the eyes a world of good. Many eye diseases are linked to other health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light raises the risk of eye diseases, including cataract, growths on the eye and cancer. Always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, and a hat while enjoying time outdoors.
Information provided by GetEyeSmart.org.