Vision loss in older adults is a major health concern. One in every three people has some form of a vision-reducing eye disease by the time they are 65 years old. Vision impairment can take its toll on many individuals, leaving them unable to perform certain tasks and putting them at risk for depression.
As our population ages (it’s estimated that 70 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030), is there anything that can be done to minimize the risk of vision-reducing diseases? Or are these conditions inevitable?
The answer is: it depends. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of vision loss in older adults and the outlook on prevention.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 65. With AMD, the macula – the part responsible for the central field of vision – degenerates. There are a variety of risk factors for AMD such as age, family history, high blood pressure and smoking cigarettes.
Glaucoma refers to a group of conditions that are characterized by glaucomatous optic nerve damage and visual field loss. Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness in the U.S., and 75 percent of Americans who are legally blind over the age of 65 are so because of glaucoma. Risk factors include age, family history, hypertension and diabetes.
Cataracts are another common cause of vision impairment for older adults, and the most common cause of vision blindness worldwide. However, in the United States, blindness from cataracts is decreasing because of the availability and effectiveness of surgery. Risk factors include age, injury to the eye tissue, certain genetic disorders and health conditions like diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness for middle-age Americans. When the blood sugar levels are too high for long periods of time, they can damage the blood vessels that deliver blood to the retina. These vessels may leak, causing swelling. Surgical options are available, but proper treatment for diabetes is most important.
As you can see, the common causes of vision loss can be prevented to some degree. While we can’t stop the cycle of aging or change our genetic predispositions, we can take charge of our cardiovascular health. The best way to prevent vision loss as you get older is to eat healthy foods, take supplements (if recommended by your doctor), exercise often and see your eye doctor regularly.