You are not alone. Loss of vision affects most people as they age to one degree or another. Age related vision loss usually begins in our forties, as we hold documents farther and farther away to see the fine print clearly.
Almost 3.5 million Americans over 40 have some vision impairment, usually from age-related factors. As the baby boomers come into this age bracket, this number will continue to grow. Eye problems increase significantly with age, especially after the age of 65.
Recent figures from the Longitudinal Prevalence of Major Eye Disease estimate that almost 7 million Americans over the age of 65 have severe vision impairment. Most of these people with age related vision impairment will not become blind, but they will experience some loss of vision. Loss of vision is defined as a condition that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
The 4 leading causes of eye disease affecting the elderly are:
- Cataracts, which causes blurry or greasy film vision
- Macular degeneration, which causes central vision loss
- Diabetic retinopathy, which causes blind spots
- Glaucoma, which causes peripheral vision loss
Seniors with vision loss may have one or more of these conditions. The most prevalent cause of age related vision impairment among seniors is macular degeneration.
Can I do anything to prevent vision loss?
Yes. Get your eyes checked out! Vision impairment is best diagnosed by a doctor who specialized in eye disease called an Ophthalmologist. The National Eye Institute recommends that everyone 60 years of age and older get a full, dilated eye exam every 2 years. This should be repeated more often if any eye disease is discovered. Macular degeneration can be prevented by a healthy diet or supplements of lutein and zeaxanthin, however, this regimen must be started before the aging process begins to take its toll.
Are there any cures or treatment for vision loss?
Yes. Some of the problems with vision and eye disease can be drastically improved or totally cured with treatment. This may involve medication or surgery. There have been many wonderful innovations in eye surgery. Cataracts can now be completely removed and artificial lenses can be implanted to replace the defective ones. There are now eye drops and surgery to reduce the pressure in the eye caused by glaucoma.
How will vision impairment adversely affect my loved one?
Sight impairment, especially in the elderly significantly increases their risk of injury. Some of the more common risks are falls, which may results in bruises, lacerations, and fractures. Mobility and balance can be greatly impaired and a person may be more prone to motion sickness or vertigo, especially with quick movements.
- Food preparation when one has diminished vision can lead to burns, and sometimes food poisoning.
- Inability to adequately read prescription instructions can lead to medication errors and subsequent adverse effects.
- Hygiene and an awareness of whether clothes are clean or soiled, is often missed.
A private duty home health agency can provide Caregiver supervision and assistance to prevent and minimize these risks from potentially serious injuries.
In working with the visually impaired, AA Care Services has come up with the following suggestions:
Listening to the visually impaired person is imperative when assisting them. Be attentive to communication. When moving a visually impaired person, offer the back of your arm just above the elbow, asking the client which side they prefer to use, and walk about a half step, slightly ahead of the client. This allows them to have a better sense of direction when moving.
Be sure to give verbal cues when turning left or right, or when about to step up or down. Give verbal information on change of surface such as moving from gravel to grass or concrete.
When giving a visually impaired person a ride in a vehicle, slow down, don’t make sharp turns, and communicate frequently your intentions, and surroundings, like coming to a red light, heavy traffic, or a school zone, etc. These simple considerations will decrease their anxiety, and contribute to their sense of security and safety especially since one of their major senses is impaired.
Most people will undergo some visual impairment in their senior years. It is part of the aging process. Fortunately there are many new innovations and much progress has been made in the treatment of visual degeneration and eye disease. Some of these vision problems can be completely cured or alleviated through surgery or medication. Steps like those listed above can contribute to the security and sense of well-being of the visually impaired and can help them to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Want to find out more?
American Council of the Blind
Are You a Senior Citizen Struggling with Vision Loss?
American Federation for the Blind
Special Report on Aging and Vision Loss
National Federation of the Blind
Information About Vision Loss for Seniors
National Federation of the Blind
Losing Your Vision – What Now?
Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.