Optical afflictions are easy to see

Editor’s Note

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision loss is one of the most common disabilities suffered by both adults and children in the U.S. The CDC reports that 12 million Americans over the age of 40 experience some type of vision problem, and 4.2 million of those Americans are legally blind or have low vision.

Vision loss can occur gradually in some cases and happen quickly in others, depending on the cause. Some forms of visual impairment are temporary or can be repaired, while others are permanent. Age-related eye conditions are among the top causes of vision loss in the United States, the CDC reports.

Presbyopia commonly occurs in people between the ages of 40 and 50. These people lose the ability to focus their vision on objects up close to them, which causes them to have difficulty seeing letters and numbers clearly and makes reading a challenge. Presbyopia is among the refractive eye disorders which also includes myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism, although these disorders are not necessarily age related.

Once identified, refractive errors, including presbyopia, can usually be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, and sometimes surgery.

Macular degeneration is another eye disorder that occurs in older adult, and the CDC reports it is the leading cause permanent reading impairment and fine vision loss in people 65 and older. Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this condition affects the center of the retina, called the macula, which allows for our 20/20 vision and is responsible for most of our color vision.

Macular degeneration can result from two different conditions affecting the macula. In dry AMD, the more common of the two forms of macular degeneration, the macula thins with age, causing the person’s central vision to blur. As less of the macula functions over time, more of the central vision is lost in the affected eye, although dry AMD typically affects both eyes. Seventy to 90 percent of all cases are dry AMD.

Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula, leaking blood or fluid. This can quickly lead to eye damage and cause blind spots in the person’s field of vision. Straight lines that look wavy are a symptom that the observer may be experiencing wet AMD.

While cataracts are suffered by young and old alike, the CDC reports that more than 17 percent of all Americans 40 and over have cataracts in at least one eye, and 6.1 million have had surgery to remove their lenses. Cataracts, which are a clouding in the eye’s normally clear lens, are the leading cause of vision impairment in the U.S. and the top cause of blindness around the world.

Cataracts can easily be removed with surgery, but many people still suffer with them because they cannot afford the treatment, they are not aware that treatment exists, or they are reluctant to have it.

However, the leading cause of blindness in the United States is diabetic retinopathy. As the name suggests, diabetic retinopathy (DR) occurs as a complication of diabetes, when the retina’s blood vessels are slowly blocked, choking the blood supply to the light-sensitive eye tissue.

It occurs in four stages, becoming worse over time, and is usually found in both eyes. Diabetics who are able to manage their symptoms, control their blood sugar levels and blood pressure can reduce their risk for DR, and loss of sight can be minimized through early detection and treatment of the condition. However, 4.1 million Americans have some form of retinopathy, and 899,000 are in danger of going blind because they have not had their eyes checked or did not catch their DR early enough for treatment to work, according to the CDC.

Glaucoma typically occurs when the eye’s fluid pressure rises, although some studies now suggest that it can occur in an eye with normal pressure. Blindness can result from damage to the eye’s optic nerve, but early detection and treatment can prevent serious vision impairment.

The two major categories in the group of diseases that make up glaucoma are “open angle” and “closed angle.” Open angle glaucoma happens slowly and goes unnoticed until its later stages. Loss of eyesight can occur rapidly in closed angle glaucoma, but because it can be painful when it suddenly occurs, many patients seek medical treatment before vision loss becomes severe.

Other forms of vision loss, such as those caused by migraines, eye strain and conjunctivitis (commonly known as pinkeye) can be sudden, taking anywhere from a few seconds to several days to set in, but these are usually temporary and can be reversed with time or treatment.


Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines in familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home consultation, call 330-332-1203.


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