That’s due to several things. Our pupils get smaller resulting in less light entering the eye. More than almost any other organ (other than the skin), the eye is particularly at risk of being damaged due to exposure to light. And finally, the eye’s cornea may yellow, creating a decrease in depth perception and difficulty in tolerating glare. The result is that as we age, our eyes see color differently, our vision becomes less clear and we require more light to see well. Here’s a list of things we can do to protect the eyesight we have and possibly even improve it:
In our homes and work places
Be aware that colors are seen differently by other people. Older eyes see color with a yellow cast to it and darker. If you are considering remodeling your home or even just painting a room, make sure that you look at the color palette being used rather than relying on someone else to choose. Younger eyes will see colors as brighter and lighter than older eyes so a palette that looks sharp and attractive for someone younger may make your space more difficult to navigate and too dark or depressing. On the flip side of the coin, using that color contrast may make it easier to help differentiate walls from floors or counters, mark stair risers and treads to provide better visual contrast or provide warnings about changes in floor levels.
Lighting becomes important as we age because we need more light to see clearly. While it may have worked to have spots of lighting when you were younger, our aging eyes take longer to make the adjustment from lighting to dim and back again. It’s better to have a uniform pattern of lighting so your eyes don’t have to keep making adjustments and possibly open the door to an accident. Improving lighting is one of the least expensive and most easily accomplished tasks. Night lights, task lighting and light bulb changes can greatly increase the safety of your home.
Cut the glare from surfaces. If the younger “you” liked the look of lots of exposed chrome and glass, you may find it hard to see well now that you are the older “you”. Including lamp shades to help direct illumination and sheer curtains to help provide visual clues about window or patio door surfaces can help reduce glare and make depth perception easier to judge.
Researchers at the Atlanta VA Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation found that moderate aerobic exercise can help to preserve the structure and function of retina nerve cells after damage. One of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly is age-related macular degeneration. This is the first study linking exercise to retinal health and vision say the study authors. They believe it’s likely that in the future, exercise programs may be tailored for treating blinding diseases.
Sunglasses don’t just make you look cool. Wearing sunglasses protects your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much exposure to UV rays increases your chances for cataracts and macular degeneration.
If you work or play around hazardous or airborne materials, wear safety goggles or glasses at all times.
Quit smoking if you smoke, don’t start if you don’t. Cataracts, optic nerve damage and macular degeneration are more likely if you smoke.
As the world’s population continues to increase in age, the incidence of age-related eye diseases is expected to rise. A survey by the Ocular Nutrition Society in 2011 found that 70 percent of Baby Boomers ranked vision as the most important of the five senses and yet more than half had no idea about how important a role nutrition played in protecting vision.
If you believe Bugs Bunny, carrots make you see better. And there’s a certain kind of truth to that. But in the world of eyesight anyway, while carrots are one of the best known foods for eye health other foods may play a stronger role in keeping your vision acute. If you’re looking at your eating habits to help protect your eyesight, you need to eat a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, lean meats, dairy, fish and nuts. A national survey found that people ate far less of the desired nutrients than suggested by current recommendations or guidelines.
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale protect eyes from the damage created by sunlight, cigarette smoke and air pollution. The nutrients from these foods get into the lens and retina of your eye and are believed to absorb damaging visible light. Other sources of the lutein and zeaxanthin that help with that function are: collard greens, broccoli, kiwis and grapes.
- Citrus such as grapefruit, bright fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, papayas, green peppers or Brussels sprouts are good sources of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Vitamin C, among all of its many benefits is a highly effective antioxidant, protecting essential molecules in the body from damage by toxins and pollutants. The eye’s higher metabolic rate makes the need for antioxidant protection that much more important.
- Fats are particularly vulnerable to destruction through oxidation. The retina is highly concentrated in fatty acids. Vitamin C and E work together as an antioxidant to prevent a chain reaction of lipid oxidation.
- Zinc is needed for optimal metabolism of the eye. It protects the structure and the function of cell membranes and plays an important role in antioxidant and immune function. Americans generally get enough zinc in their diets. You get it by eating oysters, crab, and turkey for starters. Just two medium oysters give you enough zinc for the day.
- The omega-3 fatty acids you should be eating anyway in order to protect against heart issues also protect your eyes from inflammation. You need two serving a week and can get those servings by eating sardines, salmon and tuna.
- Deep orange, red and yellow vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots and winter squash help to fight off night blindness.
Here’s a recipe that incorporates many of the foods listed here and it tastes great as well.
Implications of reduced vision
One in 20 people over the age of 85 is legally blind. Impaired vision impacts the safety of the individual’s home. Floor level changes may not be obvious so spills, displaced area rugs, and fallen objects may suddenly create tripping, slipping or falling hazards. It may become difficult determining the height or depth of stairs. Dials on thermostats, ovens, washing machines, microwaves and telephones may be difficult to read. Labels on cleaning products, medications and food may prove indecipherable and create opportunities for accidental poisonings or missed medications.
This website provides additional suggestions for modifying a home for a low-vision individual.
Of course, it takes more than eyesight to make it possible to stay in your own home. In addition, you need to have enough money, an age-appropriate home with your mortgage paid off, family members that can protect you from predators that prey on vulnerable older adults and a Nancy Reagan to fight tooth and nail to make sure that your wishes are carried out.