By the time they turn 65, one in three Americans has some form of vision-impairing eye condition. There are four major age-related eye disorders affecting seniors: glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Learning about each disease’s symptoms and their treatments can help you protect your vision and that of the senior in your life.
Glaucoma occurs when the pressure within the eye is elevated, which can cause damage to the optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. There are usually no initial symptoms, so as many as one million people have glaucoma and don’t realize it. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.
At first, glaucoma yields no apparent signs. However, as the disease progresses, someone with glaucoma may notice their side or peripheral vision gradually failing. Sufferers of glaucoma may experience worsening tunnel vision if left untreated.
Fortunately, there are many different types of medications used to treat glaucoma, both in eye drop and pill form. However, for some seniors, medications alone don’t successfully control increased eye pressure, and surgery needs to be performed. This surgery is routinely performed on an outpatient basis.
The risk factors for glaucoma include age, the use of steroid medications, near-sightedness, and a family history of glaucoma.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s usually transparent lens, which is composed of water and protein. But if the protein clumps together, it can begin to obscure the transmission of light through the lens. If the cataract worsens and vision is severely affected, your senior may require surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a new one.
Getting older is a major risk factor for cataracts, and women have the propensity to develop them slightly more than men. Seniors with a family history of cataracts, that don’t protect their eyes from the sun, or who smoke are more likely to develop cataracts.
Macular Degeneration (MD) diminishes sight in dramatic fashion: it affects a senior’s central vision. Although people having MD will rarely go completely blind because of it, many find it hard to drive, read, and perform other daily functions. MD affects the macula, an area at the retina’s center that is responsible for focused, central vision.
There are usually no visual symptoms in the early stages of MD. A senior’s central vision will eventually appear blurry or wavy, and in advanced cases, it may completely disappear. However, because the retina is still healthy, peripheral vision usually remains intact. Even with some vision remaining, it can still be difficult for seniors with MD to detect fine details and colors.
MD is considered incurable, but there are several treatments designed to slow its progression. Laser surgery and anti-angiogenic drug injections are often used to treat seniors with MD. Low-vision devices also help seniors maintain an active lifestyle despite the visual changes that they experience.
The biggest risk factor for developing MD is age. Family history, high blood pressure, and smoking are other risk factors.
A complication of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy (DR), is potentially blinding. Diabetes causes abnormal changes in the retina’s blood vessels, which causes them to become leaky and grow where they shouldn’t. These new vessels tend to bleed and break. As they attempt to heal, the damaged blood vessels contract and detach the retina.
Symptoms of DR include shadows or dark objects that appear to float across the field of vision, distorted or blurred vision, partial loss of vision, and pain in the eye.
There is no cure for DR. However, laser treatment is usually very effective at preventing vision loss, provided it is done before the retina has been severely damaged. The surgical removal of the vitreous gel (vitrectomy) can also help improve vision if the condition is caught early enough.
Early Detection and Proper Care
To prevent lasting damage to the eyes, most age-related eye disorders that seniors experience must be detected early in their development. For seniors, a comprehensive eye exam is recommended every year. These eye exams are vital for catching diseases like MD and glaucoma that have no obvious symptoms in their early stages. If the senior in your life is experiencing noticeable changes in their vision, it’s crucial to make an appointment for an eye exam as soon as possible.
We Can Help
Caring for a family member with visual impairment can be very challenging. We can step in with trained caregivers and assist seniors with a variety of eye disorders. Additionally, our family trusted in-home services include personal care, respite care, companion care, transportation, and even 24-hour care. And all of our home care amenities can be individually combined into an affordable package that will put your mind at ease.