While Americans spend billions of dollars each year on how they LOOK, little attention is given to how they SEE. Seniors are especially vulnerable to eye diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, as well as hypertension-related eye damage such as retinal vein occlusion.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued guidelines on aging and the eye as a result of its 2015 Eye-Q© Survey1 (updated with 2016 data).
Here is a summary of their recommendations.
Get a Baseline Eye Exam
Eye changes often begin around age 40. This is a good time to get a baseline comprehensive eye exam. Signs of early eye disease might be present, even if you have no symptoms yet. Early intervention can head off more serious problems later.
After this exam, comprehensive exams should be repeated every two to four years until age 54. Then, the exam should be every one to three years until age 64. After age 64, the exam should be every year or two, or as recommended by the ophthalmologist.
Know Your Family History
Some eye diseases that appear in seniors have a genetic component. For example, if a close relative had the disease:
- Age-related Macular Degeneration: 50% increase of risk
- Glaucoma: 4x to 9x increased risk
Be sure to tell your ophthalmologist about your family history.
Avoid Smoking to Save Your Eyes
Smoke in the eyes is a significant irritant and contributor to dry eye. Beyond that, smoking increases the risk of developing these eye diseases (Source: Natural Eye Care: Smokers’ Life – How Smoking Changes Your Life)
- Optical neuropathies: 1600% increase
- Diabetic eye disease: 100% increase
- Eye Inflammation: 120% increase
- Macular Degeneration: 150%-200% increase, depending on how much you smoke
Talk to your doctor about modern smoking cessation programs.
Eat a Healthy Diet
The eyes are made of nutrients. Eat plenty of dark leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and vegetable oils. For example, according to past surveys most Americans don’t know that spinach is better for your eyes than carrots. Also, if you are not vegetarian, favor cold water fish like salmon and tuna. (Editor’s note: See our recommendations for the Mediterranean Diet, a sensible nutrition program designed to support vision)
Control Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Blood Sugar
Your doctor should be monitoring blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels regularly, especially in the middle-aged and seniors. Listen to their recommendations for getting these numbers in control. Take action and make any needed corrections to your diet, exercise routine, weight and stress levels. These efforts will help extend your life, improve the quality of life, and preserve vision.
Scientists and doctors have made many advances in preserving vision and improving the well-being of seniors. Taking responsibility for a healthy lifestyle helps ensure high-quality senior years.
The 2016 AOA Survey
Diabetic Eye Disease
79% of Americans don’t know that eye diseases caused by diabetes have no visible symptoms or that eye exams can identify previously undiagnosed diabetes in patients. Eye disease caused by diabetes causes changes in the retina of the eye that the eye doctor can see and identify. And only 54% of people with diabetes have regular eye examinations.
However learning that the only way to find out whether diabetes will cause blindness is through an eye exam increased the likelihood (89%) of visiting an eye doctor. Similarly, the 2016 survey found that learning that eye exams can detect diabetes prompts 87% of patients to get an eye exam.
In 2016 59% of the respondents said that laptops and desktop computers bothered their eyes the most; 61% said they use more than one device at once, 56% said they use their digital devices for entertainment. Yet at the same time 76% of people know that blue light from hand-held devices affects their vision.2
Pay attention to good computer use habits:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule – that’s a 20 second break every 20 minutes, looking 20 feet away.
- Keep from 20-28 inches from your computer monitor.
- Keep the screen 4 to 5 inches below eye level.
- Minimize glare.
- Blink often.
Editor’s Note: See more details on good computer work habits.