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Vision Problems in Older Adults

I laid my glasses on the bed while I dressed, then couldn’t find them because their color faded into the surrounding colors of the bedspread. I was sure that’s where I put them, but my search was futile. Finally, I called my grandson to come find them for me.

The incident is only one of many vision problems encountered as I get older, and I am not alone. Aging adults have trouble reading, have a hard time driving at night because of the glare of lights, may not get their makeup on straight or see the computer screen properly. There are a number of common vision problems that affect aging adults, including the ability to see close objects clearly (called presbyopia), floaters, dry eyes, tearing and cataracts.

Although the ability to see close objects clearly happens over a long period of time, it usually is not noticed until after the age of 40. Often, the problem can be corrected with reading glasses.

Another problem older adults may experience is floaters, which are tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision. Also usually normal in aging adults, floaters can be an indication of other problems. Floaters usually are seen when a person is outdoors on a sunny day or in a brightly lit room. Floaters accompanied by light flashes, or a change in the type of spots you see, suggest the need for an eye exam to determine if a more serious problem exists.

Although common, dry eyes can be uncomfortable. The condition occurs when tear glands do not make enough tears. The result can be itching and burning. Occasionally, it is accompanied by some loss of vision. A humidifier may help, or eye drops. Serious cases may require surgery.

Sensitivity to light, wind or temperature changes my cause tearing. Sunglasses may help. If not, consult your eye doctor to make sure there is not a blocked tear duct or an eye infection.

Another problem for seniors is cataracts. They cause cloudy areas that cover the lens of the eye. Cataracts form slowly, and may not change the ability to see well if they stay small. The lens of a healthy eye is clear, similar to a camera lens, and light passes easily through it to the back of the eye where images are processed. When cataracts form and become large or thick, they affect vision. They can be surgically removed.

Glaucoma is caused from pressure of fluid inside the eye. The flow of fluid between the cornea and the eye’s lens is blocked, resulting in the condition. It can lead to permanent loss of vision and even blindness if not treated early. Glaucoma also can be caused by injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels, and inflammatory disorders of the eye. Regular eye examinations usually include a test for glaucoma. Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops, medication, or surgery.

Retinal disorders interfere with the transfer of images to the brain.
The retina is a thin lining on the back of the eye, collects the images. Related eye problems include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment. Early diagnosis is important for these conditions so they can be treated to safeguard vision.

Conjunctivitis, sometimes called “pink eye” or “red eye,” causes redness, itching, burning, and/or tearing. A person may feel like there is something in the eye. It can occur in people of any age and may be a result of an infection, exposure to a chemical, or from allergies. A doctor should treat the condition.

The cornea, which is clear and dome-shaped, acts as a window at the front of the eye, and can also can be affected by injury, infection, disease, or exposure to toxic items. Medication may be used to treat diseases of the cornea, which helps to focus the light that enters the eye. Other treatments include adjustments to eyeglasses or surgery. Symptoms of cornea problems include redness of the eye, watery eyes, pain, a reduction in vision, or a halo effect in vision.

Older adults may also have problems with their eyelids. They may droop, have blinking spasms, or become inflamed on the outer edges. The eyelids are meant to protect the eye by distributing tears and regulating the amount of light that enters the eye. Symptoms of eyelid problems can include pain, itching, tearing, and sensitivity to light. Medication or surgery is used to help eyelid problems.

Temporal arteritis is a serious condition that can be treated with medication, and if discovered early, loss of vision can be prevented. Temporal ateritis causes the arteries in the temple area of the forehead to swell. Symptoms include severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness in the temple area. Sudden vision loss may occur. It also may cause shaking, weight loss and a low-grade fever.

According to The Eye Digest, there are signs that can indicate vision loss. If a person wearing their regular glasses still has trouble recognizing faces of friends and relatives, there may be a problem. Other things to look for are difficulty doing things that require good close-up vision such as reading, sewing, cooking, or picking out and matching the color of your clothes. Difficulty doing things because lights seem dimmer, or difficulty reading street and bus signs also can indicate a problem.

Vision changes could be early warning signs of eye disease. Regular eye examinations can help discover any problem or potential problem with your vision, and treatment can be started to maintain your vision.