Aging and Your Changing Vision: What You Need to Know

As we enter our forties, many things become simpler (like doing our taxes, finishing a good book, and eating in restaurants alone). But some things get more difficult–like reading the newspaper and seeing street signs.

Where once you could hold a book comfortably in your lap while reading, now your arms aren’t quite long enough to hold it the right distance from your face. Where once you could sit in front of a computer screen for hours reading and typing, now you need to take a walk to rest your burning eyes.

Your vision has changed. And you’re not alone. In 2004 The Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group estimated that 1 in 28 Americans 40 years and older is affected by “low vision1” (impaired vision caused by age, eye disease or stroke).

Forty isn’t really a magic number (eye disease can affect us at any age), but it is the beginning of a time in life when our vision can and more-than-likely will change. Your friends and family will call it farsightedness, and for the most part, it’s nothing to worry about. Nothing a cheap pair of reading glasses from your local AM/PM won’t cure, right?

Well, consider this. . . . Between 2000 and 2020, the prevalence of blindness in Americans is expected to double. The number of Americans with age-related eye disease is expected to double within the next three decades.

That means that for some, a change in vision is a signal that something more serious is happening. And the best advice I can give you is to practice proper eye care and see your optometrist at least once a year. If you’re like most people I know, though, you won’t go to the doctor as often as you should or until you have an idea of what is wrong. If that’s you, the information below about some of the most common eye diseases may be helpful.

Cataracts — Affects nearly 20.5 million Americans age 65 and older. What it is: A Cataract looks like clouding on the surface of the eye. But actually it is a clouding inside the bag of fluid that houses the lens of the eye. When old cells die, they collect inside this bag and cause clouding and blurred vision. Who it affects: Both men and women 55 and older.

Symptoms: Cloudy, blurry vision; colors appear faded; lights seem too bright and often appear to have a halo around them; poor vision at night; double vision; frequent prescription changes.

Eventual outcome: Without proper eye care treatment, complete color blindness and severely blurred vision are the eventual outcomes.

Glaucoma — About 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another 2 million do not know they have it.

What it is: Glaucoma is a group of diseases (rather than a single disease) that damages the optic nerve and can result in loss of vision or even blindness. When the fluid level inside the eye rises to above normal levels, you are said to have Glaucoma.

Who it affects: It affects both men and women, primarily those with a family history of glaucoma, those of African American ancestry, diabetics and anyone over the age of 60. Symptoms: Eye pressure; decreased peripheral vision.

Eventual outcome: If left untreated, Glaucoma can result in complete loss of peripheral vision, and blindness

Macular Degeneration — More than 1.6 million Americans over age 60 have advanced macular degeneration.

What it is: Macular Degeneration is an age-related disease that causes progressive damage to the macula. The macula is at the center of the eye’s retina; it enables us to see fine details.

Who it affects: Macular Degeneration affects both men and women, usually 60 years old or more. It is less common in African Americans than in Caucasians.

Symptoms: Blurriness or darkness in the center of ones vision; peripheral vision remains intact. Central vision is the portion of our eye sight that enables us to see fine shapes and lines. It is needed for reading, driving and recognizing faces. Eventual outcome: If left untreated, Macular Degeneration leads to loss of central vision altogether, leaving the person unable to perform many of life’s normal activities.

Diabetic Retinopathy — Diabetic retinopathy affects more than 5.3 million Americans age 18 and older.

What it is: Diabetic Retinopathy is a fairly common complication of diabetes. It is a leading cause of blindness in American adults.

Who it affects: Both men and women with diabetes; most common among people 40 years and older. Prior to age 40, diabetic retinopathy affects Caucasians more frequently than other races. After age 40, Hispanics have a higher incidence than others.

Symptoms: Swollen blood vessels in the eyes; fluid leaking from the eye; abnormal growth of new blood vessels on the surface of the eye. You may or may not notice change in vision, at first. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss.

Eventual outcome: If left untreated, Diabetic Retinopathy can cause severe vision loss, and in 8 percent of diabetics, it can lead to blindness in one or both eyes.

Now that you’ve seen some of the symptoms and probable outcomes of untreated, age-related eye disease, I hope you agree that early identification and treatment are the best ways to prevent the most devastating affects of eye disease. Don’t become a statistic. Make an appointment with your eye care specialist once a year, and keep your vision as clear and sound as possible.