In today’s world, it seems there are more strains on our eyes than ever before. Air conditioning drying them out, car headlights getting brighter, and the constant presence of screens on computers and phones. As we age, there’s more demands on our eyes yet still, and according to the 2018 National Health Interviews Survey, 9.2 million American seniors ages 65 and over reported experiencing ‘significant vision loss’.
Common wisdom adheres that we should get our eyes checked every couple of years. But as we get older, is there value in getting optical exams more frequently?
If you are still living at home, it’s important to get your eyes checked regularly to ensure you’re still driving safely, for example. If seniors are in an assisted living or care home, it’s important for them to consult their on-site health professionals about their eye care. Many eye diseases, such as glaucoma, may not show symptoms until they’re at an advanced stage, so seniors should be particularly attuned to issues such as headaches, nausea, and redness of the eyes. Even without any symptoms or concerns, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends regular eye exams, specifically after age 40.
Ages 40 – 65
It’s important to have a baseline eye exam near the age of 40. This gives an eye doctor an understanding of the condition of your vision in order to aid with tracking any changes in vision over the coming years. The most common worsening in our sight in the immediate term is often long-sightedness, or presbyopia.
As we age, the lenses in our eyes lose some elasticity, and focusing on close up objects may become more difficult. Oftentimes, presbyopia can be remedied by wearing reading glasses when necessary. Middle age is usually when issues such as high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, and diabetes start to become more prevalent, which can also affect eyesight.
While our vision changes as we age, needing more light for reading is common, as is lessening of tear production (particularly in women experiencing changes in hormone levels). However, these aren’t necessarily danger signs, so it’s important to get our eyes checked regularly so that your eye doctor can monitor them, particularly if you have further risk factors such as a visually demanding job.
It’s recommended that adults 65 and over get their eyes checked at least biannually, and more often if they have risk conditions such as a family history of glaucoma or diabetes. For seniors in assisted living situations, it’s important to talk to your on-site healthcare professionals about health conditions. As part of their healthcare administration degree program, they will have concentrated on senior services and learned about topics and issues relating to the gerontology field.
It’s important to make sure conditions are being managed properly so they don’t get worse. The CDC found in 2020 that 24.2 million people aged 65 and older have pre-diabetes. Progression into diabetes would heighten the risk of diabetic retinosis, which if left unchecked can lead to blindness.
It’s important for seniors still living at home to maintain a regular relationship with both their eye doctor in addition to their primary care physician (PCP). An AARP survey in 2018 reported that 58 percent of those who had regular medical check-ups reported that their primary care physician or other providers hadn’t asked about their eyes. It’s important to recognize and report on changes in the eyes such as worsening of central vision, which is often a sign of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Blurry vision and dulling of colors can be an early sign of cataracts.
High blood pressure can cause changes to blood vessels in the eyes, either thinning or ballooning, which can lead to swelling of the optic nerve. Vessel changes can often be spotted with an optical exam from a qualified eye doctor. Health administrators in senior facilities should consider eye care for those under their care with dementia-related conditions. Look out for seniors who may be bumping into objects or having difficulties with reading and writing – this may be related to eyesight and not simply be effects of dementia.
Our eyesight is a key part of our total health and doing things such as quitting smoking, monitoring our blood pressure, cardiovascular health and glucose levels benefit our whole bodies and not just our eyes. Talking often with our healthcare professionals about our eyesight, and having regular checks with an eye doctor, is an important part of a virtuous circle to maintain the lifestyle we wish to lead for longer.
Are you due for a comprehensive eye exam? Find an eye doctors near you to make an appointment ›Written by Rosie Judd