Vision Loss in Aging Adults: An Introductory Guide

Last Updated: 27.03.20

 

Vision is one of the most important senses the human body possesses. We can see well enough to drive, to read at a close distance, and to use tools and stuff. The neuroscience behind it is wonderful and some quantum physics researchers even believe that vision is a holographic process. 

As we age, vision diminishes over time and sometimes it comes between us and our day-to-day activities. Here we are going to tell you when and why this happens and what you can do about it.

 

How the eye works

The eye is a sensory organ that allows us to see over 10 million colors. It is sensitive to light and transforms it into an image that is sent to the brain through the optic nerve. 

The photoreceptor cells in the retina are responsible for this process, but, before the light can get to them, it has to pass through a natural lens that has the ability to converge light to a single point on the retina.

A healthy eye has an optical power of 60 diopters. That is enough to get the light to the retina. If that differs, or if your eye is a little bit bigger or smaller than it should be, the lens won’t be able to converge the light beams exactly onto the retina and you will need to wear eyeglasses. This is called a refractive defect. 

A refractive defect is not considered a disease, so you can not treat it with medication, you can only correct it with eyeglasses or contact lenses. But there are other medical problems that can affect your eyes with age and we are going to tell you everything you need to know in the following lines.

 

 

The close-up problem

Not being able to read without glasses anymore is not a disease, but it’s a vision defect that comes with age. Most people, after the age of 40, start to experience problems while reading or engaging in activities that involve close-up vision. This is normal, it happens to almost everybody and there’s a simple explanation for it. 

In a normal situation, the lens inside your eye changes its shape to adjust your vision and does that all day, shifting your vision from far distance to close distance. It can do that because of its elasticity. When you look at the horizon, the lens is relaxed, but when you read a book, in a close distance, your lens changes its shape to give you clarity. 

After the age of 40, the natural lens in your eye loses its elasticity and it progressively loses its ability to change its shape and give you the clarity we need to be able to read at a close distance. That’s why, at some point in our lives, we will all need close-up eyeglasses. It’s something that shouldn’t scare you because its evolution stops, it won’t make you blind.

 

Age-related eye conditions

Vision impairment in seniors is a health problem all over the world and it changes people’s lives in various ways. The most common causes are age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. It all sounds very scientific, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, we will help you understand what all these mean in no time.

 

Age-related macular degeneration

The macula is the central part of the retina where an image is formed inside the eye. As you can probably guess, macular degeneration is a deterioration of the central part of the retina. This means that if the macula is deteriorated, the cells on the macula that catch light are also deteriorated and they are not able to form an image anymore.

This happens only on the central part of the retina so it progressively leads to central vision loss. When you have normal vision, if you look at your finger, you can see it clearly and you can see everything that surrounds it. But someone with macular degeneration can not see the finger, and sees only the surrounding parts. Makes sense, right?

What can we do about it? Researchers have come to the conclusion that we can prevent it by eating food rich in carotenoids to prevent oxidation. There are also some treatments that stop its evolution after it has been diagnosed. That is why, as soon as you notice that you have vision problems, you should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.

 

Cataracts

We’ve previously talked about the importance of the natural lens of the eye. A cataract is a disease that affects this lens. 

The lenses in our eyes are transparent, that is how they allow the light to get through. A cataract is a condition in which the lens starts to become opaque, it gives us a cloudy vision. The cloudy vision usually begins in the exterior part of the lens and slowly progresses to the center, but sometimes people can have cloudy spots in the central vision first. 

Luckily, people with cataracts can solve their problems with surgery. The medical procedure involves local anesthesia and it lasts for about 15 minutes. 

What the surgeon does is very simple to understand: he/she breaks your lens into small parts using ultrasound technology, removes these parts by using a technology that resembles vacuum cleaning and, in the place where your old lens used to sit, he/she inserts an artificial lens which will behave like your natural one.

 

Glaucoma

In simple terms, glaucoma is a collection of eye diseases that cause the deterioration of the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting the visual information from the cells in your retina to your brain. 

High eye pressure is a risk factor for patients with glaucoma because the pressure causes the optic nerve to deteriorate. That is why, for patients who have glaucoma, it is essential to keep the pressure inside the eye within normal values. 

Glaucoma can have a hereditary component and it can also be induced by age. It affects men and women at the same rate and is one of the leading causes of blindness among seniors. 

If you have someone in the family that is struggling with this condition, it is absolutely necessary for you to take some tests to see if you also have it. It is important to do so because you can have glaucoma without having any significant symptoms, but the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner you can get treatment and possibly save your vision.

 

Diabetic retinopathy

We’ve already talked about the retina and its purpose. As you can probably conclude, retinopathy means deterioration or malfunctioning of the retina. Retinopathies can have different causes, but one of the leading retinopathy causes is diabetes.

You have probably heard of diabetes before. It is a disease that implies that the pancreas can not produce enough insulin, the sugar hormone, to keep your blood sugar levels between healthy values. The causes may vary, but an unhealthy diet, stress, not enough physical activity, and genetic factors are among the most common.

But how can diabetes cause vision problems? Well, in people with this kind of health problem, the blood vessels on the retina can get swollen or can even break and leak liquid and even blood on the retina. This means that the cells on your retina responsible for catching the light can deteriorate and affect your vision. 

Small blood vessels can also grow on the retina in places they are not supposed to be and that can impair your vision as well.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the main causes of blindness for people who have diabetes. Because diabetes is such a widespread disease among young people as much as the elderly, this is an often encountered cause of vision impairment through seniors.

 

 

Final considerations

When becoming seniors, people notice that some limitations start to appear when it comes to their well being. Their movement is impaired because of different kinds of pain, their hearing can become affected because of the hearing nerve deterioration, and vision makes no exceptions.

However, a good practice is to have an ophthalmologist appointment once a year. Why is this essential? Simply because all the issues we’ve discussed above can be kept under control if you detect them in time. 

Taking care of your health as a senior is important and periodical checkups are necessary. So to keep their vision in check and to be able to read their favorite books and enjoy their grandsons’ cuteness, seniors have to take care of their eyes as much as they do when it comes to their hearts.

 

 

Ioana Moldovan

Ioana is a lifelong learner with extensive work experience in the public health field. She is passionate about science and psychology and is constantly curious about how these can change people’s lives for the better. Her goal is to gather valuable information that can help her readers.

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