Seeing the world is our primary way of interacting with it. Having good eyesight can keep an aging individual happier, safer, and more active as they grow older. Unfortunately, our eyes are more likely to deteriorate as we age. In addition, conditions more common in the elderly (like diabetes, high blood pressure, and poor diet) can dramatically change the way we see the world.
Spotting these changes in yourself can be easy but seniors may often be reluctant to voice concerns about any vision changes they’ve noticed themselves. Many older individuals don’t wish to place additional “burdens” on caregivers, and may not wish to cause a “fuss” about something they consider to be a natural part of the aging process.
However, many of the most common vision changes in seniors are treatable—some are even curable—if they’re caught early enough.
The Most Common Vision Changes in Seniors (and How to Spot Them)
Cataracts are opaque or “milky” formation on the surface of the eye. They were once difficult and expensive to treat but modern laser technology has made the process an outpatient procedure with minimal downtime and amazing results.
How to Spot Cataracts in the Elderly: Cataracts can often be seen with the naked eye. They appear as a white film or haze over the outer portion of the eye which can darken in color to yellow or even brown as they worsen. Individuals suffering from cataracts may be unable to read fine print, see double images, have increased sensitivity to bright lights and glare, and may lose the ability to see well in dark places.
Glaucoma affects nearly 50% of seniors 80 years old and older. Glaucoma is caused by excessive pressure in the eye itself. This causes the ocular nerve to compress and lose the ability to transmit signals from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma isn’t curable but it is treatable with laser surgery and prescription eye drops that can help maintain correct pressure in the eye.
How to spot Glaucoma in the Elderly: Symptoms of glaucoma include decreased contrast sensitivity, dulling of colors, and increased sensitivity to glare (bright lights may even become painful). Listen to what the individual is telling you, and keep watch for tells like squinting, frequent headaches, trouble walking (changes in depth perception), or holding objects closer than normal.
Macular Degeneration—The macula is the center portion of the retina and when it begins to fail patients progressively lose the ability to see the things they are focusing on. It can be frustrating because often peripheral vision isn’t affected at all—it’s as if a hole has appeared in the center of your vision. New treatments including eye injections, laser therapy, and increased use of certain vitamins have been proven to slow the progression of macular degeneration and even reverse the effects.
How to Spot Macular Degeneration in the Elderly: Individuals may hold items off to the side or turn their heads in order to put objects in their periphery. Also, straight lines may appear wavy or distorted leading to mobility issues, difficulty reading, and problems writing longhand.