In the same way that the rest of your body’s muscles decrease in strength as you age, the same is true in regards to your eye muscles and abilities especially around the age of 60 and there after.
There are a few age-related weaknesses, like presbyopia, which are very normal and aren’t an indication of a disease or of a disease process. Here in Northern Colorado, cataracts can be considered an age-related disease as they are so very common for people over the age of 50. Cataracts can be simply and easily corrected with a cataract surgery.
There are a few of us in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley who will have more serious age-related eye diseases that will eventually have a greater potential for negatively affecting our quality of life as we age. A few of these ailments include glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
When do age-related vision changes occur?
Presbyopia. After the age of 40, you will begin to notice that it is increasingly difficult to focus on objects up close. This is completely normal loss of near focus ability is called presbyopia, and it happens because of the hardening of the optical lens inside your eye.
There is some time when you will be able to simply hold reading materials a little farther away, however there will come a time when you will need reading glasses, multifocal contact lenses or multifocal eyeglasses. There are a few corrective surgery options for presbyopia available, monovision LASIK and conductive keratoplasty (CK) are a couple of the available procedures.
Cataracts. Although cataracts are categorized as an age-related eye disease, so many seniors have the condition that it is also seniors classified as a normal aging change. According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 50% of 65-year-old American citizens have cataracts forming in their eyes. As the Us population continues to age and enters their 70s, that percentage will continue to increase. It is even estimated that by the year 2020 more than 30 million US citizens will have cataract disease.
Today in Northern Colorado we have modern cataract surgery which is extremely safe and so effective that 100% of the vision lost to cataract formation is restored in most cases. If you are noticing vision changes due to cataracts, please don’t put off discussing these symptoms with your eye doctor. It is often much better to have cataracts removed before the disease is too far advanced. Also in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley, we have multifocal lens implants that are now available. These advanced intraocular lenses (IOLs) can potentially restore all ranges of vision, thus reducing your need for reading glasses as well as distance glasses (or multifocal lenses) after the cataract surgery.
Major age-related eye diseases
Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is the main cause of blindness in America’s seniors who are 50 years old and older. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), macular degeneration currently affects more than 1.75 million American citizens. As the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation ages this number is expected to increase to about three million by 2020. Today there is not yet a cure for AMD, but there is medical treatment available that may slow its progression or stabilize it.
Glaucoma. Your risk of developing glaucoma will gradually increase with each decade after age 40 – from around 1% in your 40s to up to 12% in your 80s. The number of US citizens that have glaucoma is expected to rise by 50% (to 3.6 million) by the year 2020. If this disease is detected early enough, glaucoma can often times be brought under control with medical treatment or surgery and vision loss may be prevented.
Diabetic retinopathy. According to the NEI, approximately 10.2 million US citizens over age 40 are known to have diabetes. There are many experts who now believe that up to 30% of people who have diabetes have not yet been diagnosed. That is a staggering percentage. Among known diabetics over age 40, the NEI estimates that about 40% have a degree of diabetic retinopathy, and one out of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy. The best way to treat retinopathy in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley is by controlling the underlying diabetic condition in its early stages is the key to preventing vision loss.
How aging affects other eye structures
Here in Northern Colorado we often think of the aging process as it relates to conditions such as presbyopia and cataracts, there are more subtle changes to your vision and eye structures that also take place as you grow older. Some of these changes include:
- Reduced pupil size. As we naturally age, the muscles that control our pupil size and reaction to light lose some of their strength. This then results in the pupil becoming smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting. Because of these changes in vision, many seniors need about three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s. Also, seniors in Northern Colorado are more likely to be dazzled by bright sunlight and glare when emerging from a dimly lit building such as a movie theater. Eyeglasses that have photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating can be an aid to reduce this vision problem.
- Dry eyes. As we grow older, our bodies naturally produce fewer tears. This is especially true for women post menopause. If you start to experience burning, stinging or other eye discomfort related to dry eyes, try blinking several times in a row which will naturally increase the tears your eyes create. Another option is using artificial tears as needed throughout the day for comfort, or consult your eye doctor for other options such as prescription dry eye medications.
- Loss of peripheral vision. In Fort Collins, Loveland Greeley aging will also cause a normal loss of some peripheral vision, with the size of our visual field gradually decreasing by approximately one to three degrees with every ten years of life. By the time you reach your 70s and 80s, you may have a peripheral visual field loss of 20 to 30 degrees. Because of this loss of visual field it increases the risk for automobile accidents, so please make sure you are more cautious when driving. To increase your range of vision, be sure to turn your head and look both ways when approaching intersections, making lane changes, going around roundabouts or merging with traffic.
- Decreased color vision. There are cells in the retina of the eye that are responsible for normal color vision; these cells slowly decline in sensitivity as we age. This decline then causes colors to become less bright and the contrast between different colors to be less noticeable. One main color, Blue, may appear faded or “washed out.” Today there is not a treatment for this normal, age-related loss of color perception, you should be aware of this loss if your profession (for example, artist, seamstress or electrician) requires a fine color discrimination.
- Vitreous detachment. As we go through the ageing process, the gel-like vitreous inside the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina, causing “spots and floaters” and (sometimes) flashes of light. This condition, called vitreous detachment, is usually harmless. But floaters and flashes of light can also be a signal of the start of a retinal detachment – a very serious problem that can cause blindness if it is not treated immediately. If you experience flashes and floaters, please see your eye doctor immediately to determine the cause.
What you can do about age-related vision changes
Here in Northern Colorado a healthy diet and wise lifestyle choices – including regular exercise, keeping at a healthy weight, reducing stress and causes of stress in your life and not smoking – are your best natural defenses against vision loss as you age. Also, be sure to have regular eye exams with a caring and knowledgeable optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Discussing with your eye doctor all of your concerns in regards to your eyes and vision. Bring all and any information about any history of eye problems in your family and any health problems you may have. It is also, let your eye doctor know about any and all medications you take, this also includes non-prescription vitamins, herbs and nutritional supplements.
For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please call 970-204-4020 or click on the link on the side of the page.