Approximately 1 in 3 people will have some kind of vision-reducing eye problem by age 65. Vision impairment is characterized by a decreased ability to perform basic daily tasks and is associated with an increased risk of depression.
In this guide, we’ll look at the different types of vision impairment and highlight the ways you can detect and treat them.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the leading cause of vision impairment in seniors. It is a degenerative condition that affects the macula, a central part of the eye responsible for central vision, as opposed to peripheral vision. Central vision is used to read, see faces, and recognize colors and shapes. As such, it’s the most important part of your vision and, once affected, can make life very difficult.
This condition typically doesn’t lead to complete blindness but can cause severe vision problems.
There are two forms of AMD, Wet and Dry:
- Dry AMD: The most common form of macular degeneration, dry AMD is caused by deposits of drusen, which can distort the vision as they increase in size and number. Dry AMD can cause blind spots following the degeneration of light-sensitive cells.
- Wet AMD: Approximately 1 in 10 AMD sufferers have the wet form of AMD, which is caused by leaking blood vessels behind the eye. Vision becomes distorted, blind spots form, and complete loss of central vision can occur.
Age-related macular degeneration can be asymptomatic in the early stages, with most diagnoses occurring after some vision loss has occurred. As soon as you begin to suffer from vision problems or experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult with your eye doctor:
- Blurry vision
- Changes in color perception
- Blurred spots
- Difficulty reading text
It’s believed that genes play a big role in determining your AMD risk. In other words, if you have a family history of this condition, your risk of getting it increases significantly. Additional risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and consuming a diet rich in saturated fats.
Having light skin, light-colored eyes, and being female also places you in a higher risk category.
Treatments for AMD
While there are no cures for age-related macular degeneration, some treatments can slow the disease down and even return some lost vision. Anti-angiogenesis medications, which block the formation of new blood vessels and are often used to treat cancerous tumors, have proven to be very effective in treating the wet form of AMD.
Laser therapy can help as well, destroying some of the problematic blood vessels.
Recent research suggests that dietary changes can reduce the risk of developing AMD and may even stop the spread of the disease. For instance, we know that smoking and consuming lots of saturated fat can increase the risk. At the same time, there is reason to believe that antioxidants, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin (both of which play a key role in supporting optimal eye health) could help.
If true, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, specifically those with a dark green or orange color, as they’re more likely to be high in the aforementioned antioxidants, could reduce the degeneration of this condition.
This is not a huge stretch, as we know how important antioxidants are for overall health, and research has also shown that they can reduce the risk of countless chronic conditions. Furthermore, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in substantial quantities in the macula and are believed to contribute to its healthy function.
It stands to reason that a diet deficient in these compounds would worsen the condition of the eye and limit its function. In that case, it’s reasonable to assume that a diet rich in such compounds would allow it to function optimally for longer periods.
Whether that means these antioxidants can actually play a role in healing the condition is another matter entirely, but we’re talking about naturally occurring health-boosting antioxidants here, not side effect riddled medications, so it doesn’t hurt to try.
Cataracts are characterized by a clouding of the eye that makes your vision blurry and makes it feel like you’re looking at the world through a steamed pane of glass. As the condition advances, you will be able to see a whitish film over the eye, but this takes a long time to appear.
Not all cataracts need to be treated, especially in the early stages. You should always get checked, but your eye doctor may simply prescribe a stronger pair of glasses or some other visual aids to allow you to see more clearly. If the condition continues to progress, you may need surgery. Fortunately, this is an effective treatment that can return your sight to normal.
Glaucoma, like age-related macular degeneration, tends to occur later in life and can run in families. It’s often the result of a pressure buildup that occurs inside the eye and damages your optic nerve.
Symptoms don’t always present in the early stages, but your eye doctor can diagnose the condition and relieve the pressure. If no such action is taken and vision loss occurs, it will never come back.
You are a higher risk for glaucoma if you are of the following descents:
Being over 40 also places you in a higher risk category, as does having an eye injury, high blood pressure, heart disease, taking steroids, and being either near or farsighted. Some of the symptoms of glaucoma include partial vision loss, the appearance of halos, eye redness, and eye pain.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision impairment in people with diabetes and can lead to complete blindness if left untreated. It occurs when your blood sugar level is too high for too long, leading to the development of new blood vessels that do not function as well as they should.
Some of the symptoms include:
- A lot of “floaters” in your eyes
- Black spots in your vision
- Inability to see colors
- Blurry vision
Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans are in a higher risk category, as are people with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Tips for Seniors with Vision Impairment
Whether you’re a senior aging in place or a caregiver helping an elderly loved one, here are a few helpful tips to make life easier for someone with impaired vision:
Remove Trip and Fall Hazards
You don’t need to be visually impaired to understand how much of a hazard this condition can be.
For example, how many times have you stubbed your toe or tripped over a rug when shuffling to the toilet in the middle of the night? It’s dark, you’re not paying attention, and even though it’s your home and you know where everything is, you inevitably hurt yourself.
This is exactly what it’s like for someone with vision impairment. Don’t just assume that they’ll see the hazards or memorize their placement. Move them out of the way!
Anything that they can trip over or bump into or anything that can cause serious harm should be moved. This includes glass coffee tables, furniture with sharp edges, and anything below knee height.
Focus on Good Lighting
Mood lighting needs to take a backseat when severe vision impairment is concerned. Swap those dim and moody lights for brighter and whiter alternatives and pay attention to where you place them.
Proper lighting isn’t just about fitting the strongest ceiling light you can find. You need to consider how a visually impaired senior will navigate the kitchen, read, play cards, and go from one room to the next.
For the kitchen, under-counter lighting is extremely helpful as it makes for easy navigation, as well as preparing and cooking. Touch-lamps should be placed on tables to help with simple tasks, and these lights should be easy to activate. Harm could be done as the visually impaired person moves from the couch to the light switch, so install smart home devices that can activate all lights with a simple voice command.
Use Contrasting Colors
The most hazardous pieces of furniture are not necessarily the smallest or the ones with the sharpest edges, but the ones that blend into their surroundings the most.
Contrasting colors can make these items easier to spot for someone with impaired vision. The same applies to kitchen counters, doors, and anything that any visually impaired individual needs to access on a daily basis.
This doesn’t mean that you need to consider painting everything and buying new furniture. Instead, a few carefully considered accessories should suffice.
The bathroom is the perfect example of this, as the average American bathroom is all one color: white toilet, bathtub, sink, shower, and fittings. Rather than committing to a full redesign, just add a few contrasting items, such as black towels, shower curtains, non-slip mats, and accessories.