Two out of three Americans falsely believe vision loss is inevitable as we age. Sure, aging can affect your eyes — but vision loss is not the norm. Here are 21 common changes to vision and eye health that aging adults should watch for, and the best ways to protect your sight.
Common signs of aging eyes
1. Trouble reading fine print
Presbyopia is common after the age of 40. This makes up-close activities, such are reading or sewing, more challenging. Reading glasses can help, as can some contact lenses and refractive surgeries. There are even new eyedrop medicines that can help improve near vision due to presbyopia.
2. Difficulty seeing at night
Older adults may notice that their eyes take longer to adjust and focus in the dark than they used to. Studies suggest that the eye’s rod cells, which are responsible for low light vision, weaken with age. That’s why driving becomes trickier at night, or during poor weather. The National Traffic Safety Administration recommends that older people only drive during daytime.
3. Dry eyes
Older adults tend to produce less tears. This is an uncomfortable eye condition called dry eye. Dry eye is especially common among women who have gone through menopause. Your ophthalmologist will recommend the best dry eye treatment for you.
4. Objects blending into backgrounds
It may become more difficult to distinguish objects from backgrounds of similar color, such as milk in a white cup. This is a loss of contrast sensitivity. Low vision techniques can help with this, such as using opposite colors around the house.
5. Red, swollen eyelids
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelid. Blepharitis becomes more common due to hormonal changes as we age. Symptoms include red or swollen eyes, crust around the eyelashes, or soreness.
6. Spots or floaters in your vision
The vitreous, or jelly-like substance filling the middle of the eye, can thicken or shrink as we age. When this happens, tiny clumps of gel can form and cause floaters in our vision. This is usually harmless. If you suddenly start seeing many more, discuss it with your ophthalmologist.
7. Flashes of light
When people see occasional flashes of light in their vision, it is often a sign of aging. These flashes happen when the vitreous rubs or pulls on retina. Like floaters, discuss a sudden increase in frequency with your ophthalmologist.
8. Glare sensitivity
Aging adults with certain eye conditions can become increasingly sensitive to glare. Good ways to lessen the discomfort are to:
- adjust lighting around the house,
- cover your eyes with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat while outdoors, and
- use a matte screen filter on digital devices.
Half of Americans over the age of 75 develop cataracts. A cataract is when the lens inside of our eye become cloudy, making it difficult to see. Cataracts can be treated with surgery.
10. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD is a common eye disease, usually found in adults over the age of 50. Patients may not notice symptoms during early stages of the disease. But central vision will eventually decline. Treatment varies depending on the type of AMD.
People of all ages can be diagnosed with glaucoma, but the disease is most common among senior adults. The disease damages the optic nerve and can lead to blindness if not treated early. Symptoms often go unnoticed. Getting regular eye exams is the best way to protect yourself from vision loss.
12. Diabetic eye disease
Diabetic retinopathy is another leading cause of vision loss among adults. Very high levels of blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the retina. This damage causes vision loss. There are various treatment options for diabetic retinopathy.
13. Eye cancer
Although ocular melanoma is rare, it is the most common eye cancer and is more common in adults as they age. Early symptoms of ocular melanoma often go unnoticed. This is why routine eye exams are particularly important to catch this cancer early. Ocular melanoma diagnosis begins with a dilated eye exam.
14. Falls can cause vision-threatening injuries
Falling becomes more likely as we age due to changes in balance and vision. This can lead to serious injuries, including eye injuries
— which happen most often at home. Simple adjustments around the house minimize the risk of a fall, including:
- cushioning sharp corners of furniture and home fixtures,
- securing railings, and
- making sure rugs and mats are slip-proof.
15. Poor sleep
Research suggests our eyes absorb less blue light as we age. This is why our bodies often produce less melatonin in our later years, which can disrupt our normal sleep-wake cycles. Sleep problems are also believed to be more common in those with glaucoma and diabetic eye disease.
How to protect your eyes — and your overall health — as you age
16. Health problems might show up first in your eyes
Routine eye exams are important for ensuring your overall health. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, vitamin deficiencies, and several diseases can be detected through the eye before any symptoms surface. An eye exam may even reveal a senior's risk for dementia.
17. Knowing your family's health history can protect your future
Identifying your risk factors is important for preventing serious eye diseases. Discuss family history, ethnicity, age, and other factors with your ophthalmologist.
18. Healthy living is especially important as you age
Healthy habits like exercising and eating well have always been important for your health. This is especially true as you age. Preventing conditions like obesity or diabetes will protect your eyes too.
19. Low vision tools can help
Loss of good vision is not a normal part of aging. But if you have vision loss from an eye disease, low vision tools can help you maintain independence. These range from smartphone apps that read text aloud to hand-held magnifiers. A low vision rehabilitation team can provide personalized recommendations to make life easier.
20. Prepare for exams when caring for people with Alzheimer's and dementia
If you care for someone with dementia, being well prepared for their eye exams can help protect their vision. Here are some useful tips for caregivers when seeing an ophthalmologist with an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient.
21. Plan to get your eyes checked more often as you age
As you age, expect to get dilated eye exams more often to make sure all is well with your eye health. The Academy recommends all healthy adults get a baseline eye exam with an ophthalmologist by age 40. Seniors over the age of 65 should see an ophthalmologist every one to two years.