OD Q&A: What seniors need to know about eye health

What seniors need to know about eye health, according to optometrists

As we get older, many things change and evolve – including our eyes.

The aging process can impact vision, and eyesight in a variety of ways, from naturally changing vision, to cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.

According to the Canadian Council of the Blind, 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable and treatable, so it’s crucial to have regular eye exams to spot issues before they become serious or to seek treatment for an existing condition. An optometrist is your best ally when it comes to maintaining and protecting your vision later in life.

Eye exams check more than just vision, they also assess overall eye health. All clinics located within a Specsavers are equipped with OCT technology to help optometrists spot any abnormalities. Those who are 65 or over, can get a comprehensive eye exam that includes an OCT scan with nothing to pay (costs covered by provincial health care plan for eligible patients).

Here, optometrists Dr. Darshan Singh Matharu and Dr. Justin Snell got together to discuss the impact of aging on eye health and answer common questions.

Why is my eyesight changing?

Eyesight can change for a lot of reasons, whether due to the natural aging process, eye disease, or certain medications. One of the most common causes associated with aging is presbyopia, where it becomes more difficult to see objects and details up close. Another condition associated with aging is cataracts (a cloudiness of the lens in the eye). Cataracts can cause sensitivity with glare and light which leads to poor night vision and ‘halos’ appearing around lights. You may also be familiar with glaucoma – this condition is a result of increased pressure build-up in the eyes and can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. Any of these conditions, and others such as fatigue or medication side-effects, can cause changes in vision, whether sudden or gradual. If you notice your vision has changed quite suddenly, it’s always best to see an optometrist immediately.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

There are various types of glaucoma and symptoms will differ depending on which type you have. Often patients do not experience symptoms until there is irreversible damage such as a loss of peripheral vision. If you have chronic glaucoma, you might not realize it because it’s painless and affects your peripheral (outer) vision. Without regular eye exams you may not notice there’s a problem until your start to lose your more central vision. Acute glaucoma develops much faster as a result of sudden pressure build-up in the eye. Although rare, it is usually painful and is often accompanied by:

  • Blurred vision
  • Haloes around lights
  • Headache
  • A red eye
  • Nausea/vomiting

If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to seek immediate care. Glaucoma can be treated but early detection is important. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause visual impairment and damage that cannot be reversed. But if it’s detected and treated early enough, further damage to vision can be minimized or prevented. If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, it’s important to follow the treatment plan as instructed by your optometrist or ophthalmologist.

I have AMD, what can I do to protect my eyesight?

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a common cause of central vision problems. If you have dry AMD (where certain cells in the macula at the back of the eye start to degenerate and get thinner) there are steps you can take to slow the progression. These include eating a diet rich in green leafy vegetables or taking a lutein supplement. These contain antioxidants called carotenoids that support eye health. You should also take care to protect your eyes as much as you can when in sunlight, by using sunglasses and a hat to shade your eyes from harmful UV rays. Your optometrist may also suggest other vitamins to support your eye health.

What signs or symptoms should caregivers be looking for with senior dependents?

Complaints of dry eyes, floaters, cloudy vision, flashing lights, or difficulty seeing should always be taken seriously as soon as possible. Sometimes a patient might scratch their eye in their sleep or damage their eye and not know it, so it’s important for caregivers to watch for this behaviour so an optometrist can begin treatment. Likewise, caregivers should watch for signs of eye infections including redness, irritation, and discharge.

Caregivers should also ensure that their dependents are wearing sunglasses for UV protection. UV rays can cause age-related macular degeneration and cataracts to progress faster, or increase symptoms with these conditions, so it’s important to wear proper sun protection for the eyes.

Am I too old to wear contact lenses?

The simple answer is no, you’re not too old! However, once you’re over 50 you are more likely to need glasses with progressive or bifocal lenses. There aren’t as many contact lenses on the market that have this function, but your optometrist can help you find a lens that works with your prescription and lifestyle.

Another reason older patients may decide to switch from contact lenses to glasses is because dry eye tends to worsen or become more common as we age. This can cause more discomfort with contacts. It’s never too late, but there are some challenges. Your optometrist can help find the right solution for you!

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