Eighty percent of the information we receive from the world is brought to us through our eyes. We are more likely to remember what we see than any of our other senses. As we age, however, we become more susceptible to eye diseases, which is why it is so important for you as a senior to protect your vision.

Vision Challenges for Seniors

There are several major eye diseases that become more prevalent for older adults. They include:

Cataracts. These occur when the eye lens becomes cloudy. The affect is like looking through fog. Things are blurry, hazy or less colorful. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, though often one eye can be worse than the other. Many seniors experience a decreased ability to see under low-light conditions, which can make driving at night particularly hazardous.

When prescription lenses don’t work, surgery to remove the cataract is an option. However, since cataracts do not normally harm the eye, they don’t have to be immediately removed – unless the senior has diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy. People with diabetes can develop this progressive eye disease from damage to the tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye. Symptoms include spots or dark strings in a person’s vision (floaters), empty or blurred areas in the field of vision, impaired color vision, and vision loss.

Careful management of diabetes, which includes diet and exercise, is the best way to prevent retinopathy. People with diabetes should see an eye doctor annually for an eye exam with dilation.

High blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol and smoking can also be contributing factors.

Glaucoma. This is a group of eye diseases associated with damage to the optic nerve. It often affects both eyes and results in the loss of peripheral vision. Medications can slow the progression of glaucoma, and surgical treatment is a possibility. If untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.

Regular eye exams are the best form of prevention for glaucoma. It is recommended that after age 65, that exams should be scheduled every six to 12 months.

A regular program of moderate exercise is also recommended, which can reduce damaging fluid pressure within the eye.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This disease blurs the sharp, central vision needed for activities like reading and driving. This is a common condition for seniors, and is the leading cause for blindness for people age 50 and older.

As it progresses, a blurry area near the center of vision will appear. This may get larger over time and produce blank spots. Straight lines may start to look wavy, which is a symptom of late-stage AMD degeneration.

According to the National Eye Institute, lowering the risk for this disease includes not smoking, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and eating healthy foods, including leafy green vegetables.

Treatments include medications and laser therapy.

Dry Eyes. Though not as serious as the eye conditions above, dry eyes are common among senior adults. The ability to produce tears diminishes, resulting in stinging or burning sensation in the eyes, redness, sensitivity to light, difficulty with nighttime driving, watery eyes (the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes), blurred vision and eye fatigue can result.

If left untreated, dry eyes may cause more frequent eye infections, inflammations, abrasion of the corneal surface and vision loss.

Prevention includes avoiding blowing air from fans, hair dryers, and car heating or air conditioning vents. In the winter, consider adding a room humidifier. Also position your computer screen below eye level so you don’t have to open your eyes widely to see it. Do not smoke and avoid smoky rooms.

Artificial tears can relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. The recommendation is to use preservative-free artificial tears.

Vision Protection With Diet

Eating a healthy diet, not only improves your overall health, it can protect your vision as well.

Consuming foods containing vitamins A, C, and E, and the mineral zinc help as a preventatives of eye disease. Food sources include:

  • Broccoli and other green leafy vegetables
  • Carrots
  • Red peppers
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Salmon (Omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Almonds
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Oranges

Supplements containing the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin which are linked to eye protection are available. (Please consult your physician before making dietary changes or taking supplements.)

Eye Protection

  • Wear safety goggles when operating machinery, or otherwise engaging in activities which may produce damaging airborne particles.
  • Sunglasses help protect your eyes as well, blocking out ultraviolet light which can contribute to AMD, cataracts, and other eye conditions.

Give your eyes a rest. The 20-20-20 rule recommends after 20 minutes of staring at a computer, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Preventative health is especially important in seniors. Visit our blog for more health and wellness tips.