An Annual Eye Exam Can Help Increase Senior’s Independence
August is National Eye Exam Month. The American Optometric Association recommends that adults age 61 and older get an eye exam every year. This is particularly important because few conditions of aging erode an older person’s independence faster than losing their eyesight.
As we age, our risk for many eye diseases increases, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. Many eye conditions have no obvious warning signs or symptoms and can be detected only by a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Plus, the older we get, the worse our vision tends to become, which can increase our risk for falls.
Cataracts Most Common Reason for Vision Impairment
Cataracts are the most common reason for impaired vision in the world. They occur when cells start dying and accumulating in the lens of the eye, which makes the world you see cloudy and dull. They are a natural result of aging and while they can’t be prevented, they are treatable. According the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts. Here are some things you should know about cataracts, their risk factors and treatment.
Age is the biggest risk factor for cataracts, but there are other risk factors, including:
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- Family history of cataracts
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye surgery
To reduce your risk, it helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthful diet. Specifically, studies have shown that diets high in Vitamins C and E, lutein and zeaxanthan (found in leafy greens like spinach and kale), and Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish like wild salmon and sardines, and also in flax seeds) may help prevent cataracts. Other ways to reduce your risk include keeping your weight within a normal range, avoiding getting too much sun, drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking.
Cataracts are highly treatable, so if you’re experiencing any symptoms, you should see your ophthalmologist. He/she will conduct tests to determine if you have cataracts or any other eye conditions that may be causing your symptoms. If you receive a diagnosis of cataracts, new eyeglasses or anti-glare sunglasses may help if the condition is still mild. If symptoms continue to worsen, surgery is the only effective treatment.
While the idea of any surgery can be scary, about 3 million Americans get cataract surgery every year, making it one of the most common surgeries performed. It is also highly effective, with about 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery reporting improved vision. Of course, there are risks, which you should discuss thoroughly with your doctor.
What to expect
During surgery, the lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL). It is a relatively painless procedure and generally lasts about one hour. Generally, people have only one eye done at a time. In addition to getting rid of your cataracts, the IOL can correct your vision – either near, intermediate or far or even all of the above. After surgery, you may experience some discomfort, which should disappear within a few days. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help with this. Your doctor may also recommend using eye drops to reduce the risk of infection. Healing should be complete within eight weeks.
Surgery helps keep seniors living independently
A Harvard University study found that, along with advances in cardiac care, the increased number of cataract surgeries is one of the most important factors behind today’s increased years of independence for seniors. “In the past, cataract surgery was very lengthy and technically difficult,” David Cutler, co-author of the study explained. “That same surgery today can be done in an outpatient setting so that complications and disability are significantly ameliorated.”
You don’t need to live with vision loss due to cataracts. If you think you have them or are at risk, see your ophthalmologist and make your life a little brighter.