Aging Options

Can you see your way to getting an eye exam?

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A couple months ago, one of my cats quit eating tuna from the can.  Out of curiosity, I decided to read the ingredients which should have said tuna, water.  The can didn’t read that way at all but it took me a while to know that because the light in the store wasn’t very good and the size 4 font on the glossy label was hard to read. 

At least that’s what I told myself, but many of you will recognize the signs because we’ve all seen someone squinting at a label.  I’ve certainly teased my mom often enough by offering to hold something for her when her arms were too short to hold it as far from her body as she needed in order to read something.  If you’re over 40, you’ve likely experienced something similar; the gradual need for improved lighting, longer arms or bigger fonts.

Vision problems can sneak up on us.  Unlike other injuries to the body, our eyes generally don’t hurt when they start to have problems.  As a result, the Vision Council of America estimates that 12.2 million Americans require some sort of vision correction and yet don’t use any.

Once you reach 65, you should have your eyes examined at least annually and more often if you have a higher risk for developing eye diseases.  The chances of developing eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and dry eye as well as other eye disorders such as detached retinas and cataracts increase with age.  Twenty percent of Americans delay having their vision checked because they say their to-do list is too long, yet 80 percent of us consider our eyesight the most important of the five senses.

As we age, we begin to have reduced contrast sensitivity, making it difficult for us to differentiate between similar colors and patterns.  We may begin to have floaters, those sometimes annoying but otherwise innocuous specks in our vision.  And we may begin to experience depth perception problems that make it harder for us to pick up an item on the first go round or involve an increasingly closer connection to walls as we rub shoulders with them more and more often.

If it were only eye problems that a vision test found, that would be reason enough to have our vision checked regularly but eye exams often help spot other diseases as well.  Eye exams can reveal underlying problems such as tumors, high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and possibly even Alzheimer’s.  Regular vision checkups can help to prevent vision loss by finding and correcting health issues early on before they have seriously and permanently damaged eye sight.

If you are experiencing frequent and regular headaches, it may be as easily rectified as a vision check.  In this day of high use of technology, just two hours of computer use per day is likely to result in a condition known as Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS.  CVS can cause people to have headaches, dry eye, blurry vision or tired eyes due to the strain of using laptops and computers as part of your everyday life.

Here are some warning signs that should be reported to an ophthalmologist immediately if the symptoms are severe and persistent.

  • Loss of vision
  • Sudden blurred or hazy vision
  • Double vision
  • Pain in or around the eye
  • Seeing flashes of light in one or both eyes
  • Halos around lights at night
  • Painful or intense sensitivity to light
  • Discharge or foreign body in the eye
  • Changes in the color of the iris or clarity of the cornea or watch crystal
  • New onset or sudden change in floaters or flashing lights
  • Distortion or waviness of vision

If all the health reasons weren’t enough reasons to get your eyes examined, consider the lack of independence you would likely experience with poor eyesight.  Vision problems can make driving in poor weather (think rain in Washington) or in the dark (any time after 5 p.m. or before 8 a.m. in the winter) difficult and dangerous.  And that’s assuming you can still see well enough to drive at any time of day or night.  Vision issues significantly impact the ability to drive among older drivers who may have trouble perceiving changes in movement of vehicles as they stop, slow, accelerate or reverse.

An in-depth article in Clinical Geriatrics looked at the impact of visual impairment on the quality of life of older adults.  People often react psychologically to the loss of vision with grief, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, diminished emotional security and fluctuations in appetite.   At a time when older adults are already experiencing a significant number of stressors, the deterioration of their eyesight may increase the likelihood of depression, a hindrance in the ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as housekeeping, grocery shopping and food preparation and an increase in the likelihood of social isolation.  Vision loss is a serious issue especially among seniors in nursing homes according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that Clinical Geriatrics cited.  Another study in 2011, found that the economic impact of visual impairment in older adult Americans amounted to more than $51 billion.

August is National Eye Exam Month but every day should be a day to make sure you are at the healthiest you can be so that aging can be a time of triumphs rather than one of trials.  One of the simplest and easiest steps you can take to ensure your success in that endeavor is to have an eye exam and if the doctor recommends corrective lenses, wear them.

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