As we age, almost every part of our body undergoes an expected wear and tear. With time, you would have noticed changes in your vision too. The first watershed for the yes is the early forties, when most people realize that they need glasses for reading and near work. With time, the dependence on reading glasses increases as the power of the glasses required gradually, and progressively increases from +1 to +2.5.
In addition to this, which does not qualify as a disease of the elderly, there are several changes that are happening to all of us. The natural lens of the eye is becoming harder and cloudier, and the nerve fibers in the optic nerve are gradually being lost. These are all natural changes, and only when exaggerated or pronounced, lead to a disease.
These changes alone will not be a hindrance to enjoying an active lifestyle, and they will not cause any visual difficulty for you. However, as the ageing process continues, you might experience changes in your vision as the lens becomes more cloudy, forming a cataract. The other diseases that are more common in the elderly and are related to the process of ageing are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and dry eye.
What are the most common eye problems in elderly people?
The most common eye problems in elderly people include:
A cataract is caused when the naturally transparent lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque. This causes a blurring or clouding of vision, colors may seem faded, and you may experience a lot of glare, with difficulty in night time driving. As cataract progresses, these symptoms also increase. Your eye doctor will try eye glasses to improve your vision, and in case that doesn’t help, will advise surgery for removal of the cataract, and implantation of an artificial lens.
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is one of the most common causes of permanent vision loss, and constitutes one of the common eye problems in the elderly people. The macula is the most light sensitive part of the retina (back of the eye where images a formed). The macula gets affected with AMD, and this gradually destroys sharp, central vision. There are two variants of AMD, Wet AMD and Dry AMD. The former is more aggressive and can be treated, while the latter is less aggressive but doesn’t have a definite treatment.
Glaucoma is also a common eye problem of the elderly, and is characterized by damage to the optic nerve, which is the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. It is usually associated with high pressure in the eye, and leads to loss of peripheral vision initially, which may result in permanent vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma has no symptoms till very advanced stages but can be treated very effectively if diagnosed early. There are two major types of glaucoma, Angle Closure Glaucoma and Open Angle Glaucoma, a classification which is based on the structure of the eye.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes, and cause several eye problems in the elderly people. There are several forms of diabetic eye disease, the most common one is diabetic retinopathy, which happens due to damage to the small blood vessels of the retina. Diabetes can also affect the optic nerve, lens of the eye and cause swelling of the macula and optic nerve. Diabetics are at a much higher risk of cataract and glaucoma as well.
Dry eye is one of the most common problems affecting the eyes of the elderly. When there is inadequate tear production, or when tears evaporate too quickly, the eye remains dry and sore, and often red. This makes vision blurred, causes strain, and also predisposes the eyes to infections. Dry eyes may be associated with improper tear production due to meibomian gland disease, age related atrophy, and also increased evaporation of tears due to entropion, ectropion and other lid anomalies.
How can the common eye problems of the elderly people be diagnosed early?
As almost all the common eye problems of the elderly are without specific symptoms in the early stages, the best way to safeguard the eyes and ensure perfect vision through the senior years, is to visit an eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye examination. Even when the patient has no symptoms, and enjoys perfect vision, a dilated exam can detect eye diseases in their early stages. An early diagnosis means that appropriate treatment can be started early enough to ensure that there is no vision loss. Most important of all, no decrease in vision should be attributed to age-related decline, and must be reported to your eye doctor.