Keep an Eye on Your Elderly Loved One’s Vision

All five of the senses – vision, touch, smell, hearing and taste – need a minimum level of stimulation, called a threshold, before they register a sensation. This threshold rises with age. As the senses no longer respond to delicate stimulation, the resulting dimming of sensation can leave an older person feeling isolated and depressed. Loss of vision is especially difficult to deal with.

Senior Vision Care

By middle age, almost everyone experiences age related changes to their vision. Otherwise healthy older people should visit the eye doctor at least once a year; if they have vascular diseases such as diabetes or hypertension, they should go more often.

Normal changes to our vision as we age include dry eyes, worsening peripheral vision, and decreased visual sharpness. Almost everyone over the age of 55 needs glasses at least part of the time. Glare and transitions from light to dark or dark to light become more difficult. The ability to distinguish greens and blues diminishes, so your father’s mismatched outfits may be a sign of poor vision, not poor taste.

Older people are also at higher risk for cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration, all of which can lead to blindness if left untreated Of these, cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye, are the most common affliction and the easiest to treat. Fifty percent of people 65 to 74 years old and seventy percent of those over 75 have them. Symptoms include poor night vision, cloudy or fuzzy vision, halos around lights, loss of color intensity and trouble with glare.

A standard eye exam should detect cataracts. Mild cataracts might need no treatment beyond eyeglasses. More serious cataracts usually require outpatient surgery to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial one. These procedures are typically successful and patients often wind up with better vision than they’ve had in quite some years.

Glaucoma is a less common but more serious disease, in which fluid within the eye builds up, putting pressure on the optic nerve. Without treatment, nerve cells can die, resulting in partial or total blindness. Symptoms of chronic glaucoma include slow loss of peripheral vision, blurred vision, a rainbow halo around lights and mild headaches.

In its early stages, chronic glaucoma has few symptoms. Older adults should have regular eye exams in order to detect it. Treatment involves either medication or surgery to relieve the fluid pressure. Early detection is important in treating glaucoma.

Impaired vision can seriously affect an older person’s quality of life, so caregivers should help their elderly loved ones pursue solutions to the maximum extent possible. Reading tools for the visually impaired range from magnifiers to computerized devices that convert text to speech. Other tools such as talking watches, large display or talking calculators, and even specially designed cooking accessories will help a senior continue to live safely and productively.

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