Protect your vision as you grow older

Learn to recognize the signs of eye sight changes as you age, seek treatment and take action to improve your quality of life as you grow older.

Are you noticing that it is harder to focus your eyes to read? That you need to hold the book or paper either closer or further away to really see the words on the page? Do you think that it is harder to see at night when you drive? These are common experiences as we grow older. Sometimes changes like these are serious, but for many issues with eyesight, things can be done to protect your vision and to keep you safe.

According to the National Institute on Aging, you need to see an eye care professional right away if you suddenly cannot see or everything looks blurry, you see flashes of light, have eye pain, experience double vision or have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid.

If you are not in a crisis situation such as those, you still need to have regular eye exams to protect your eyesight right now and into the future. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that people over age 65 should have yearly eye exams. The only way to diagnose some common eye diseases is to have your eye care professional put drops in your eyes that widen or dilate you pupils so they can see the back of each eye where many serious eye problems begin.

Michigan State University Extension says to make sure you see your regular doctor to check for diabetes and high blood pressure, as both bring risks for damage to the eyes if left untreated. On an everyday basis, make sure you wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes from sun damage. You can find more information through the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The National Institute on Aging says that some common eye problems can be easily treated. But, sometimes they can be signs of more serious issues.

  • Presbyopia (prez-bee-OH-pee-uh) is a slow loss of the ability to see close objects or small print. It is normal to have this as you get older. People with presbyopia often have headaches or strained, tired eyes. Reading glasses usually fix the problem.
  • Floaters are tiny specks or “cobwebs” that seem to float across your vision. You might see them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters can be a normal part of aging. But sometimes they are a sign of a more serious eye problem such as retinal detachment. If you see many new floaters and/or flashes of light, see your eye care professional right away. This is a medical emergency.
  • Tearing (or having too many tears) can come from being sensitive to light, wind or temperature changes, or having dry eyes. Wearing sunglasses may help, as well as trying eye drops. Sometimes tearing is a sign of a more serious eye problem, like an infection or a blocked tear duct. Your eye care professional can treat these problems.
  • Eyelid problems can result from different diseases or conditions. Common eyelid problems include red and swollen eyelids, itching, tearing and crusting of eyelashes during sleep. These problems may be caused by a condition called blepharitis (ble-fa-RI-tis) and treated with warm compresses and gentle eyelid scrubs.

Visit the National Institute on Aging website for more information.

Low vision means you cannot fix your eyesight with glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery. Low vision affects some people as they age. People with low vision can’t see well enough to do everyday tasks like reading, cooking or sewing. They find that lights don’t seem very bright, they can’t read street signs, and they often can’t recognize the faces of friends or family. If this describes your experience, make sure you are tested for low vision. There are many aids and tools on the market to help with this condition.

Other things you can to do support yourself if low vision is an issue include changing the type of lighting in your home, writing with bold felt-tip markers, using colored tap on the edges of your steps to help you see them and to prevent falls. You can also use phones, clocks and watches with large numbers and put large-print labels on appliances like the stove and microwave. Make sure you check with your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to drive.

As we age, we need to make practical adjustments to our everyday activities in order to ensure our safety and maintain our independence. Be sure to see your doctor regularly, including your eye doctor.

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