Just about everyone experiences some degree of vision loss as we age. But severe vision loss is a significant problem affecting millions of elderly Americans. In fact, according to the most recent Longitudinal Prevalence of Major Eye Diseases research, almost 7 million Americans over the age of 65 have severe visual impairment. Perhaps more stunning is that these same experts predict that given the current growth in the aging population that number is likely to double by 2030.
Vision loss effects the quality of life of aging adults in many ways, not the least of which is loss of the ability to enjoy everyday activities such as reading the newspaper or watching TV or movies. Mobility and freedom are impacted when seniors suffering vision loss can no longer drive. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, a visually impaired senior is at increased risk for falls and fractures, and more likely to require hospitalization and long-term care than those with good vision. Visually impaired seniors are at greater risk for depression, and more likely to make errors in doses of medication.
Reasons for age related eye disease
According to the National Eye Institute, there are four major conditions that account for age-related eye diseases in the elderly. They are:
- Glaucoma – leads to peripheral vision loss
- Macular degeneration – leads to center vision loss
- Diabetic retinopathy – causes “spotty” vision
- Cataracts – causes blurred or “filmy” vision
A senior with severe vision loss may have any one or more of these conditions. According to the institute, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one cause of blindness among senior citizens.
Treatments for vision loss
For the elderly person experiencing vision loss, it is important that he or she sees a doctor immediately to determine its source. Many of the causes of severe vision loss in the elderly are now treatable. Surgical treatments and eye drops are available that can reduce the pressure in the eye caused by glaucoma. Today, cataracts can often be completely reversed with surgery, and there are new injectable drug therapies that have shown remarkable results in reversing the effects of AMD.
For those with mild to severe vision loss, there are many assistive devices that can restore a meaningful quality of life. Such devices include:
- Magnifiers and “readers”
- Books on tape and other audio programs
- Software that make computers easier to use for the visually impaired
In addition to the use of these assistive devices, the American Foundation for the Blind recommends that all seniors experiencing any degree of vision loss:
- Install task lights in cabinets, under stoves and other dark areas
- Only read or work in a well-lighted room
- Arrange furniture with clear pathways
- Install shower and tub grab bars in bathrooms
- Keep lawns and gardens free from clutter, and pathways very well lit at night