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Protecting your Eyesight into old Age

People commonly assume that, as they get older, their eyesight naturally deteriorates, but while this can often be the case, it is by no means a certainty.

The Albertina Project carried out in Uppsala, Sweden, sent questionnaires to a random sample of 959 people aged 75 years and over with a response rate of 74 percent. Nearly one third of respondents said they could not read a newspaper without the aid of spectacles. Although this may seem a high proportion compared with younger people it implies that over two-thirds had little or no eyesight deterioration over their lifespan.

David Zacks, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Michigan explains age-related “tired eye” syndrome as the presence of one or more conditions affecting the cornea, lens, retina or optic nerve. These are the basic structures of the human eye. As we age, so we become susceptible to various forms of fatigue and degeneration and eyesight is no exception to this. Any loss or impairment of vision, however, does not have to be regarded as inevitable or incurable and various options for treatment are discussed in more detail by Prof.Zacks at scientificamerican.com .

But what of prevention? What steps can we take to protect our eyesight so as to increase our chances of growing old without the need for spectacles or eye operations?

Professor Jonathan Stone of the University of Sydney, Australia, advises the wider use of sunglasses throughout life, and particularly in later years, claiming that much eye damage in later life is due to excessive exposure of the eyes to sunlight throughout life. “When light enters the eye”, says Prof. Stone; ” it triggers chemical reactions, some of which our brain recognizes in the form of vision.” These reactions, he claims have unwanted side-effects in accelerating the natural loss of photoreceptors, causing a gradual diminution in eyesight as we grow older and often first perceived as an inability to see dim light in dark conditions.

Prof. Stone’s research into visual degeneration in old age also points to diet and the value of antioxidants in preserving eyesight. This is backed up by research in the United States suggesting that vitamins C and E may also inhibit the development of cataracts. We’re all told at some stage in our childhood that eating carrots can help us see in the dark. The jury is out on that claim. Certain foods, however, contain a combination of Lutein and Zeaxanthin, two substances which act like “virtual sunglasses”, filtering out harmful blue light from damaging the retina. Foods rich in both these substances include spinach, broccoli, green beans, pumpkin and sweet potatoes. You can find some fun “eye-friendly” recipes at healthyeyes.org.uk.

There are other, more obvious measures we can take to help protect our eyesight throughout our lives. The Albertina Project was conducted in 1994, so it is likely that very few of the participants had been subjected to any computer screen usage in their lifetimes. Today, with almost universal computer usage both at home and in the workplace, the computer screen poses a real risk to the health of our eyes. According to the London Hazards Centre, surveys of those working at computer screens for over six hours each day show that over 70 percent experience some eye problems, with particular problems experienced by call centre workers A simple check of the brightness of the screen, the distance away from your eyes and the ambient lighting can help to minimize problems, as can ensuring that you make a conscious effort to look away from the screen and focus on something more distant at least once every twenty minutes or so.

If your employment involves the regular use of a computer screen, your employer should help you ensure that you obtain a regular eyesight test from a qualified ophthalmologist. If you are self-employed or use a computer screen for long hours for any purpose you should ensure that you visit an ophthalmologist on a regular basis and at least once each year. Although there is no direct evidence that use of computer screens can cause eye damage, it is likely that their use can exacerbate or accelerate existing problems and/or eyesight deterioration and your ophthalmologist can check for this as well as other more concealed eye problems such as glaucoma and macular disease.

Your eyesight is one of your most valuable possessions. Take care of it.