Your eyes might be the windows to your soul, but more than that they’re your window out to the world. When we’re young, most of us take eyesight for granted—but as we age, we start to notice subtle and not-so-subtle changes.
It’s sometimes the small things (the small print, to be exact) that we recognize becomes harder to read. Called “presbyopia,” this shift usually begins around 40. As time progresses, the use of readers or bifocals becomes necessary to read the fine print, like those tiny words on prescription bottles.
Other things you might notice include how difficult it becomes to distinguish an object from its background when they’re the same color. Even light—especially the dramatic shifts of light—is challenging to see through. Studies suggest that it’s the rod cells responsible for low light vision that weaken as we age. For someone with light vision issues, driving at night is problematic as the eyes can’t easily accommodate the flashes of bright headlights.
For many, changes in vision are just taken as a matter of course without a thought of seeing an eye specialist. Per the CDC, “An estimated 93 million adults in the United States are at risk for serious vision loss, but only half visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months.”
Although our eyes do change with age, vision loss is not actually an inevitable part of growing older. With proper care, you can keep your eyesight and resolve issues earlier for better results in the long term. Here, we’ll detail a couple of eye diseases your doctor will look for during an exam along with 6 ways to keep your eyes healthy as you grow older.
Cataracts and Glaucoma
If you notice differences in your vision, it could be a sign that underlying health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. An eye specialist will be able to address possible reasons for differences in your vision and monitor your eye health.
Our eyes are susceptible to age, family history, and the environment. Two of the more common diseases a specialist will look for are cataracts and glaucoma.
A cataract is a clouding of the otherwise clear lens of your eye. Cataracts develop slowly, but with time will interfere with a person’s vision. Per the Eye Institute, “Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts.” Further, it’s estimated that one in six Americans over the age of 40 already have started developing cataracts, and women are slightly more likely to develop them than men.
Most people who have cataracts develop them due to aging. Other health factors that exacerbate cataracts include diabetes, excessive exposure to sunlight, smoking and obesity.
Glaucoma is a condition that damages your eye’s optic nerve and worsens over time. Often linked to a buildup of pressure inside the eye, this disease can be hereditary, but is also triggered by underlying diseases. Early detection and treatment can stave off the worst damage due to glaucoma, but without regular screening it remains a silent problem.
Per the CDC, 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and worldwide it’s the second leading cause of blindness. Establishing a baseline state of your eyesight with an eye doctor is recommended so you can stay ahead of this problem if ever it develops.
6 Steps for Healthy Eyes
Your eyes require regular maintenance to assure they “go the distance.” Take these steps to protect them, and you’ll keep your vision healthy along with the rest of you, too.
- See an eye doctor: Get an examination with an eye doctor to determine the “baseline status” of your eyes. According to a survey conducted for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), it was found that two out of every three American adults reports having problems with their sight, including blurry vision, double vision, seeing flashes of light, and red and watery eyes.
However, of the 64% of people noting problems, only 13% actually saw an eye doctor. The AAO recommends that once you establish a baseline, for those 65 and older it’s especially important to see an eye doctor once a year.
Depending on your vision issues, you might have relationships with an ophthalmologist who can perform medical and surgical interventions for diseases of the eye. An optometrist, on the other hand, is the eye doctor that examines, diagnoses, and treats your eyes. And an optician is someone who fits you for glasses and contact lenses.
- Exercise: As we age, the question of regular physical activity is even more essential. It’s the path to keeping the health you have as long as possible. Exercise helps with every aspect of your wellness, even your eyes! Exercise allows for good oxygen intake and blood flow, which supports eye health.
- Sleep: Just like exercise, sleep is important at any age. As you get older, a good sound sleep helps diminish depression, memory loss, and a host of other chronic conditions. When it comes to the eyes, sleep allows time for your eyes to enjoy continuous lubrication which flushes out toxins like dust, smoke, and allergens.
- Wear sunglasses: Wearing shades does more than help you look sharp—obviously, their primary purpose is to protect your eyes from the sun. Overexposure to ultraviolet rays increases the risk of cataract formation and eye cancer. Make sure the sunglasses you wear not only make you look good but also block out 100% of those UV lights.
- Avoid falling: You already know that preventing falls reduces your risk of broken bones and head injuries. It also makes you less likely to get a poke in the eye, which is actually something fairly common when elders take a fall. Be sure to increase lighting in dark spaces, secure stair railings, and cushion sharp corners of furnishings and home fixtures to protect yourself.
- Wear goggles when you’re being handy: Half of all eye injuries happen in or around the home, and most often during improvement projects. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, be sure to wear goggles as you work.
Your Vision Matters
Maybe the best thing about growing older is learning that nothing you have in the present should be taken for granted. You know the aging is a mixed bag of changes, but you don’t just have to accept them silently. Take steps to protect your eyes and make it a point to visit an eye doctor at least once a year. Then, you’ll be in a position to make the right decisions to help you retain your eye health so your “windows to the world” continue to serve you.