Vision Loss: What You Can Expect As You Age

Generations throughout history have taken for granted that vision loss is a part of aging, but modern technology and advancements in the understanding of nutrition are making many age-related sources of vision loss a thing of the past. Here are just a few of the ways you can help prevent loss of vision into your 60's, 70's, 80's, and beyond.

Some degree of presbyopia, or far-sightedness, is a nearly universal condition after the age of 50. Farsightedness makes it harder to focus on objects that are up close. This is due to the age-related hardening of the lens inside your eye.

Most of us compensate for the early stages of presbyopia by holding reading matter farther and farther away from the eyes, but there is a limit to the length of our arms. Eventually, most people benefit from bifocal or multifocal lenses in eyeglasses or contacts, or from surgical procedures such as conductive keratoplasty or monofocal LASIK.

If you choose corrective lenses, you may find that you need one pair of glasses or contacts for near-vision activities, and another pair of glasses or contacts for far-vision activities.

Cataracts are nearly as common as farsightedness. About half of the US population has some degree of cataracts by age 65. The operation to replace the natural lens of the eye with a multifocal corrective lens restores vision over 95% of the time.

If you give yourself a 10- to 15-year head start, however, you may prevent the formation of cataracts by attention to UV protection and antioxidant supplementation so that you never need the surgery at all.

Age-related macular degeneration, on the other hand, is essentially impossible to correct medically once it occurs. Macular degeneration blots out the center of the visual field.

Large-scale studies of diet and vision loss, however, have found that making sure you consume regular and adequate amounts of the plant nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin along with antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, selenium, and zinc greatly reduces the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration in later life, and may even stop the progression of the more devastating "dry" form of the disease.

Glaucoma is another robber of sight. Glaucoma destroys the edges of the visual field, creating tunnel vision. Early detection of glaucoma, however, can make medical control possible, either by eye drops or by surgical intervention.

Like cataracts, however, long-term consumption of antioxidant vitamins helps deter the disease. Your risk of developing glaucoma increases by 1% every year after age 40.

Cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma, however, are not the only age-related changes in vision. Vision loss, usually not resulting in blindness, can come about from any of these conditions:

  • Dry eyes are particularly a problem for women after menopause. The eyes produce fewer tears, making them less capable of coping with dust and irritation. The burning and stinging of dry eyes, however, can be treated with artificial tears, and also by adding sources of n-3 essential fatty acids to the diet, such as flaxseed and flaxseed oil.
  • Decreased color vision occurs as the rods and cones in the retina become less sensitive to color. Blue colors, in particular, tend to fade out. There is no treatment for this condition, but you need to be aware of it if your work requires you to make distinctions in shades of colors.
  • Decreasing pupil size is also common with aging. The muscles that control how wide the pupil opens grow weaker with age, making it harder to adjust to changes in illumination, such as walking into a movie theater on a sunny day.
  • Detachment of the vitreous humor, the fluid inside the eye, can cause specks and floaters. There is not a serious problem unless there is so much distortion you cannot make out familiar objects; this could be a symptom of a detached retina, which is a medical emergency.
  • Loss of peripheral vision is yet another common complication of aging. You will probably need to compensate for loss of your visual field by turning your head more when you drive or engage in sports.
  • Some degree of vision loss is common after 60, but blindness is often preventable. Be sure to see a caring optometrist or ophthalmologist once a year and make sure the doctor knows all your health concerns and everything you are doing to preserve your sight.

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