Just as our physical strength decreases with age, our eyes also exhibit an age-related decline in performance — particularly as we reach our 60s and beyond. Some age-related eye changes, such as presbyopia, are perfectly normal and don’t signify any sort of disease process. While cataracts can be considered an age-related disease, they are extremely common among seniors and can be readily corrected with cataract surgery.
Some of us, however, will experience more serious age-related eye diseases that have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as we grow older. These conditions include glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
When Do Age-Related Vision Changes Occur?
Presbyopia. After you pass the milestone age of 40, you’ll notice it’s more difficult to focus on objects up close because of presbyopia. This is a perfectly normal loss of focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside your eye.
For a time, you can compensate for this gradual decline in focusing ability by holding reading material farther away from your eyes. But eventually you will need reading glasses, progressive lenses or multifocal contact lenses. Some corrective surgery options for presbyopia also are available, such as corneal inlays, monovision, LASIK, conductive keratoplasty and refractive lens exchange.
As you continue to age through your 50s and beyond, presbyopia becomes more advanced. You may notice the need for more frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions. You may also find that a single prescription is no longer the best solution for all your visual needs. As an example, you may need one pair of eyeglasses for normal tasks and another that emphasizes intermediate ranges for working more comfortably at the computer.
Cataracts. Even though cataracts are considered an age-related eye disease, they are so common among seniors that they can also be classified as a normal aging change.
According to Mayo Clinic, about half of all 65-year-old Americans have some degree of cataract formation in their eyes. As you enter your 70s, the percentage is even higher. It’s estimated that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts.
Thankfully, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and so effective that 100 percent of vision lost to cataract formation usually is restored. If you are noticing vision changes due to cataracts, don’t hesitate to discuss symptoms with your eye doctor. It’s often better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far. Also, you do have options now for trying multifocal lens implants or accommodating intraocular lenses that potentially can restore all ranges of vision, thus reducing your need for reading glasses.
What You Can Do About Age-Related Vision Changes
A healthy diet and wise lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, are your best natural defenses against vision loss as you age. Also, you need to have regular eye exams with a caring and knowledgeable optometrist or ophthalmologist. Be sure to discuss with your eye doctor all concerns you have about your eyes and vision. Tell him or her about any history of eye problems in your family, as well as any other health problems you may have.
Your eye doctor should know what medications you take (including non-prescription vitamins, herbs and supplements). This will help with appropriate recommendations to keep your eyes healthy and functioning at their optimum level throughout your lifetime.
About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 30 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include nearsightedness, myopia control, and the effects of blue light on the eye.
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