Eye exams are important for everyone, but especially for older adults with chronic health conditions. Many underlying problems can go undetected until it is too late to prevent permanent damage.
“Regular eye exams are important to monitor changes that could impact your quality of life or indicate a potentially serious problem,” says Dr. Steven Mack
, medical director for InnovAge Virginia PACE
center in Newport News
. The CDC reports
chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis are more common among older people with vision impairment than those without it. “We also know those who do have poor eyesight can be more at risk for falls, social isolation, depression, reduced quality of life, and they may struggle with following instructions from their doctors.”
Here are five conditions that can be monitored or identified through annual visits to your eye doctor. “Many of these can be treated relatively easily, and it’s important to monitor them so they don’t lead to permanent damage,” Mack says.
- Lens stiffness in our eyes can affect our ability to focus on things close up or far away. “If you have problems reading print or seeing far away, let your doctor know,” says Mack. “Bifocals are often an easy solution.”
- Cataracts happen when your eye lens gets cloudy. Aging, smoking, alcohol, sunlight exposure, diabetes, and certain medications can increase your risk. If you are having problems seeing at night, reading road signs, or reading fine print, talk to your eye doctor. Together, you can decide when to replace cloudy eye lenses with clear artificial ones.
- Macular degeneration can cause blindness with a breakdown in the central part of the back of your eye (macula). Symptoms include problems driving, reading, watching television, or taking care of yourself at home. Mack adds, “For example, you may find yourself using a brighter light or magnifying glass to read. Your eye doctor could recommend special vitamins for this condition, or discuss other treatments with you.”
- Glaucoma is a condition caused by high pressure on the inside of your eye. There are typically no symptoms, though gradual vision loss may be noticed during eye exams. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness. “Glaucoma can have serious impacts, but fortunately, it can usually be treated with eye drops that will lower pressure inside the eye,” he says.
- Diabetes is a major, but preventable, cause of vision loss. If you have diabetes, tiny blood vessels in the back of the eye (retina) may bleed or overgrow and, eventually, cause blindness. “It’s often too late to treat the problem by the time you notice vision loss, so yearly screenings are very important for people with diabetes to look for early changes in the back of the eye,” explains Mack. “The best way to prevent eye problems from diabetes is to work with your doctor to control your blood sugar and blood pressure.”