Just as our bodies decrease in strength and resilience as we age, so do the eyes particularly after the age of 60. But not all is lost, most changes can be aided with the use of spectacles and many serious eye conditions can be avoided with three simple things: regular eye exams, sunglasses and a healthy diet.
After the age of 40, our eyes have a reduced ability to focus on objects up close. Patients will complain of their “arms getting shorter” as they have to hold their reading material further and further away. This has nothing to do with how much you read or how much time you spend looking at a computer screen but rather the hardening of the lens inside the eye. This process is natural and unavoidable but also easily remedied with reading glasses, computer lenses, multifocal spectacles or multifocal contact lenses or mono-vision for contact lens wearers.
As we age, the muscles that control pupil size and our response to bright light and dark environments are also affected. People in their 60s require three times more light to read comfortably than people in their 20s. Older people are also more likely to be affected by glare and bright sunlight as well as sudden changes in light intensity. Photochromatic lenses that change in different light conditions can help to reduce this problem.
As we age, our eyes produce fewer tears. This is even more common in women. Complaints of dry, burning and stinging eyes become more common. This can be worsened by the use of certain chronic medication. A healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as regular use of artificial tears can help to build up the tear layer and reduce symptoms.
Cataracts in our later years are so common, many specialists consider them a normal part of the aging process. In fact, over half of all adults over the age of 65 show early signs of cataracts. A cataract is the clouding of the lens inside the eye. The clouding results in blurred vision at all distances but modern cataract surgery is safe and effective. Protecting your eyes from the sun by wearing UV protective sunglasses reduces the incidence of cataracts in later years.
The macula is the most detailed part of the central retina or the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye. The health of the macula determines our ability to read, to recognize faces, drive, watch TV, to use a computer as well as other activities that require fine detail. Studies show that up to 14% of adults over the age of 80 are affected by macular degeneration. Treatments that slow the progression of certain kinds of macular degeneration are available but prevention is always better than a cure. Nutritional supplements containing antioxidants and multivitamins that also contain lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of certain types of macular degeneration.
Glaucoma refers to increased pressure inside the eye. It is usually asymptomatic but left untreated, it can cause irreversible vision loss. The risk of glaucoma increases with each decade after the age of 40 from around 1% at 40 to 12% after the age of 80. Annual comprehensive eye exams include a glaucoma test. Photographs and scans on the retina can detect early changes that allows for early detection and treatment.
Of our five senses, which are you most afraid of losing? For most people the answer is sight but by wearing UV protective sunglasses, having regular eye exams and a healthy diet, the risk of many serious age related eye conditions is greatly reduced.
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