As seniors age, their vision naturally declines. While only a little over 5 percent of Americans under 45-years-of-age have vision problems, 12.2 percent of seniors from 65-years-of-age to 75-years-old and 15.5 percent of those over 75-years-old have vision problems. Since these numbers do not include the elderly in long-term care facilities, these numbers could be much higher. Eye health for seniors as they age becomes paramount to stave off vision problems that could have major impacts on their independence.
Senior eye care involves the testing and treatment of eye conditions, especially those more common with seniors, such as glaucoma. Aging eyes require testing more often to identify problems at early stages. Comorbidities common in the elderly, such as diabetes, can make eye conditions more likely and more severe.
1. How do eye problems affect the daily life and life quality of seniors?
Declining vision for aging eyes can impact the daily lives of seniors and severely impact their quality of life. Loss of vision can interfere with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living. These are some of the ways poor vision can harm the quality of life of seniors.
- Cooking: Seniors who experience a limiting of their vision or blurred vision may have difficulty cooking for themselves. This can include an inability to see whether they cook food to a proper temperature, the temperate of the stove or oven, or even if the oven or stove is on or off. These limitations can make it too dangerous for seniors to care for themselves.
- Meal preparation: Vision problems can limit the ability of seniors to prepare to cook meals on their own or choose healthy meals. Using a knife to cut up fruits and vegetables and the ability to distinguish between ingredients requires adequate eyesight or accommodation. Without the ability to prepare fresh meals, seniors could have to choose less healthy microwavable meals or other meals that lack appropriate nutrients, especially for the elderly.
- Bathing: Getting in and out of a bath or shower without adequate vision is dangerous. Slips and falls are especially dangerous for the elderly. Seniors could also have difficulty choosing the correct product or noticing dirt or rashes on their bodies if they have poor vision.
- Getting dressed: Aging eyes can also have difficulty dressing. Eye conditions involve both worsening vision and problems determining colors. These conditions create difficulties in picking out the correct pieces of clothing, choosing clean clothing, and distinguishing between different colors correctly.
- Laundry: Vision disorders can create difficulty seeing stains, applying the correct clothing treatments, and safely using laundry chemicals. Seniors with eye problems can have trouble using the correct treatments and reading directions on bottles. They could also mix up different products. Getting products or fumes of products from some cleaners and bleach can aggravate or exacerbate some eye symptoms.
- Transportation: One of the most common ways that eye conditions impact the daily lives of seniors is through an ability to drive or an inability to drive under certain conditions, such as at night. Seniors who cannot pass a vision test do not have the independence to drive themselves.
- Mobility: Proper vision makes it safer to walk around the home or outside independently. Even getting in and out of bed can be unsafe without an ability to adequately distinguish between the edge of the bed and the floor. Improper vision can create problems for seniors to move about safely in their homes.
- Home hygiene: Vision problems can also make it difficult for seniors to clean their homes on their own. It can be difficult to see dirt, dust, or other issues. Older adults with eye problems could also have difficulty safely using cleaning products or cause further damage to their eyes while using some home cleaners without proper ventilation.
- Engagement in hobbies: Depending on the hobby, poor eyesight or other eye symptoms can make it difficult to enjoy engaging in hobbies. For example, knitting requires the ability to see the needle and the materials. Performing some hobbies without assistance for seniors with eye conditions could be dangerous or simply not possible.
- Use of technology: Using technology for entertainment or to maintain connections is difficult for older adults with eye problems. Computer screens create eye strain in seniors, which involves sensitivity to light, vision problems, and other symptoms. Those with already poor vision could be even more susceptible and unable to use computers and cell phones on their own.
- Reading and writing: Even natural vision reduction without a major underlining eye condition can create problems in the ability of older adults to read and write. Seniors may need prescription lenses to read or eventually lose their ability to read at all, depending on the visual problem. Without the ability to read, it also makes it difficult to write legibly.
- Gardening: Although many seniors enjoy gardening, it could be difficult or dangerous to garden with vision problems. Using sharp gardening tools could be dangerous without adequate eyesight. Seniors with eye problems would also have issues seeing small changes in plants that indicate specific care needs, such as light browning of the edges of leaves to indicate overwatering.
2. Why is eye care important for seniors?
While eye care is important for everyone, seniors have particular susceptibility to the consequences of vision problems. Here are some of the major reasons why eye care is vital for the elderly population.
- Fall dangers: Since seniors with eye problems can have difficulty seeing dangers or experience mobility problems, they can also have a higher inclination to fall. Eye problems with seniors can also couple other conditions in the elderly that already present mobility issues that make it even harder for seniors to safely move around without falling.
- Independence: Without the ability to engage in activities of daily living or instrumental activities of daily living properly due to vision problems, seniors can have difficulty maintaining their independence. Unable to care for themselves independently, they may need to go to a long-term care facility or receive at-home care to promote their independence. Strong eyesight can help avoid issues in living alone.
- Social isolation: Research shows a strong connection between vision problems and issues in social isolation for the elderly. Older adults develop a fear of harm from their vision loss and develop safer, insular behaviors. Without the ability to engage in social activities or to use technology that promotes communication, seniors are at risk for the harmful effects of social isolation, such as depression.
- Pain management: Some eye problems come with eye pain that can even cause headaches. Persistent pain from eye disorders can debilitate seniors and keep them from living their full lives.
- Medication errors: A major consequence of poor eye care for seniors is the inability to properly read their medication instructions or labels. Mixing up medications can cause consequences for a multitude of conditions common for the elderly population.
3. What are the most common eye problems in older adults?
Eye health for seniors can keep them healthy and independent. Regular testing and adequate treatment can go a long way in keeping seniors on their own. Seniors may also need assistive devices to help treat their conditions or improve their mobility. Doctors can resolve about half of the eye problems that seniors experience but older adults have hesitancy in seeing a doctor about their symptoms in time to resolve issues. Understanding the common causes and symptoms of eye disorders can help seniors know what to look out for to get to their doctor in time.
What are the causes of senior eye problems?
Natural degeneration of tissues and organs in the body occur with age. Other behaviors and disorders common in older adults can cause various eye problems. Some of these include the following:
- High blood pressure;
- Genetic history of disease;
- Poor nutrition; and,
- High cholesterol.
What are the early signs of eye problems in seniors?
Given the consequences and increased vulnerability to eye problems, noting the early warning signs of problems for aging eyes can help seniors get help sooner. These are some of the common early symptoms of eye problems in seniors:
- Blurred vision;
- Difficulty focusing on reading;
- Seeing stars or floaters;
- Eye pain that occurs suddenly;
- Eye itch;
- Red eyes; and,
- Watery eyes.
What symptoms do aging eyes experience?
A discussion with a doctor can illuminate many of the common symptoms of eye problems. These are some of the major eye complaints in older adults that are symptoms of problems for aging eyes:
- Eye swelling;
- Blurred vision;
- Vision loss;
- Dark spots;
- Feeling of a curtain lowering over the eye;
- Tearing in the eye; and,
- Eye infection.
Common eye problems for older adults
These are some of the most common eye problems that older adults need to know. Seniors should consult their doctors for medical information.
- Cataracts: Cataracts involve a haze or clouding over part or all of the lens. This can create a fuzzy vision, halos, glares around the eyes, and even seeing-double. Cataracts are a very common eye problem for older adults. Surgery is the typical method to alleviate the issue.
- Eye hemorrhage: People also call an eye hemorrhage a subconjuctival hemorrhage. This condition occurs when small blood vessels rupture within the eye. This can lead to vision problems and redness in the eye. Disorders related to blood pressure and blood sugar can especially cause this in the elderly.
- Lazy eye: Lazy eye is a noticeable shift in the position of the eye due to a misalignment with the eye muscles. For the elderly population, this commonly occurs as the muscle tissue degenerates. Accidents impacting the eye can also cause it.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a serious condition that involves an increase in pressure in the eye. Although it is common for the elderly, a lack of treatment can lead to serious consequences, such as vision loss. Comorbidities and genetics typically determine susceptibility to the disorder.
- Macular degeneration: Degeneration or damage to the center (macula) of the retina is macular degeneration. This condition can cause problems with central vision, the ability to see fine details, and the ability to discern colors. It can even be difficult to discern people’s faces.
- Diabetic retinopathy: Some diabetes patients develop eye problems, especially as they age. Diabetic retinopathy is the problem of appropriate blood flow to the vessels in the eye. This produces blurred vision, leaking eye fluid, and even blindness.
- Presbyopia: Presbyopia is difficulty seeing objects that are up-close. It is a natural progression of the aging process. At close range, people experience blurred vision and can even experience headaches.
- Dry eyes: Dry eyes experience a lack of adequate tear production. This inadequacy makes it difficult for the surface of the eye to remain healthy. Dryness, itching, pain, and redness are all common symptoms.
- Temporal Arteritis: Inflammation and blockages in the blood vessels in the body can create severe eye problems, such as blindness. The onset of symptoms is typically quick, including severe headaches, pain while eating, and a sore scalp. Temporal arteritis needs urgent consultation.
- Ocular hypertension: Ocular hypertension is an increase in pressure in the eye. It is the condition that people often develop before developing glaucoma. Patients may experience intense eye pain.
What job titles are involved in eye care?
Monitoring and treating the eye health of seniors requires a team of professionals. People can primarily expect to see ophthalmologists as a part of their eye care. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor with specific education and training in diseases and treatments for the eye. They can give formal diagnoses for symptoms. Optometrists can treat some eye problems, prescribe corrective lenses, and give vision tests. People in this role have a Doctor of Optometry. Opticians help people find and fit the right eyewear, including eyeglasses and contact lenses. Physician assistants and technicians assist ophthalmologists with treatments, and nurses can help deliver eye care medications and treatments at home or follow-up monitoring.
What are eye home care services?
Eye care at home for senior patients are also a critical part of senior eye care for those who have mobility or transportation issues getting to the doctor’s office. As this group can especially be at-risk, senior eye home care can involve a number of the following services:
- At-home vision testing;
- Lensing fitting;
- Coordination with larger healthcare team;
- Eyeglass repair services;
- Home care testing for eye conditions;
- Treatment of some eye conditions; and,
- Other services depending on the company.
Does dementia cause eyesight problems?
Rather than causing problems in the eye, dementia can cause neurological changes that impact vision. In this way, instead of the problem originating in the eye, it originates in the brain. The brain has trouble making sense of the images it receives from the eyes for processing.
Does Medicare cover eyeglasses for seniors?
Medicare does not generally pay for the cost of eyeglasses for seniors. Exceptions to this do exist. Medicare does cover 20 percent of the costs of eyeglasses through Medicare Part A after cataracts surgery. Cost reductions also exist through Medicare Part B following eligible eye surgery.
How do elderly administer eye drops?
The elderly can have trouble administering eye drops for a variety of reasons, such as arthritis or limited mobility. Seniors may need a caregiver to assist them with this task. Consulting with a doctor for instructions or notifying them of any problems is a good idea. Here are some tips for administering eye drops to the elderly.
- Anyone administering eye drops should wash their hands before application.
- Patients or their caregivers should read the instructions thoroughly as they differ based on the prescription.
- Next, the person delivering the drops should firmly pull the lower eyelid down with the thumb and place the edge of the hand on the forehead.
- Seniors and the caregiver should avoid touching the eye with the dropper.
- Finally, the person can squeeze the dropper to release the eye drops.
How often should a 70-year-old have their eyes tested?
If someone is 70 years old, then they should have their eyes tested on an annual basis. Comorbidities can put this advanced-aged group at a higher risk of eye disorders.
How often should seniors get eye exams?
Anyone over 60-years-old should get an eye exam once per year. They should also make an appointment if they experience any eye problem symptoms, even if they already had an exam that year.