How should I care for my vision as I grow older?

Many eye diseases and disorders become more common as we age. Advances in ophthalmology allow most people to maintain good vision as they grow older. Many eye problems can be prevented or corrected if detected in their early stages. Most older people have good vision. If you do develop a vision problem, early diagnosis and treatment by an ophthalmologist can help to preserve your sight.

Regular eye examinations by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) are the best way to detect eye conditions early, while they can be treated. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) with special training and skills to diagnose and treat all diseases and disorders of the eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an eye disease screening at age 40. Based on the results of the initial screening, your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.

Adults 65 years and older should have an eye exam every one to two years, as recommended by your ophthalmologist. The following are eye problems commonly experienced by older people.

  • Presbyopia
  • Floaters
  • Cataract
  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Diabetic eye problems
Dr. Laura C. Fine, MD
Ophthalmologist (Eye Specialist)

Although aging puts people at greater risk for serious eye disease and other eye problems, loss of sight need not go hand in hand with growing older. Practical, preventive measures can help protect against devastating impairment. An estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of all blindness can be avoided or treated, mainly through regular visits to a vision specialist.

Regular eye exams are the cornerstone of visual health as people age. Individuals who have a family history of eye disease or other risk factors should have more frequent exams. Don't wait until your vision deteriorates to have an eye exam. One eye can often compensate for the other while an eye condition progresses. Frequently, only an exam can detect eye disease in its earliest stages.

You can take other steps on your own. First, if you smoke, stop. Smoking increases the risk of several eye disorders, including age-related macular degeneration. Next, take a look at your diet. Maintaining a nutritious diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables and minimal saturated fats and hydrogenated oils, promotes sound health and may boost your resistance to eye disease. Wearing sunglasses and hats is important for people of any age. Taking the time to learn about the aging eye and recognizing risks and symptoms can alert you to the warning signs of vision problems.

Although eyestrain, spending many hours in front of a television or computer screen, or working in poor light does not cause harmful medical conditions, they can tire the eyes and, ultimately, their owner. The eyes are priceless and deserve to be treated with care and respect—and that is as true for the adult of 80 as it is for the teenager of 18.

Colin McCannel, M.D., a retina specialist and medical director of the Jules Stein Eye Center, Santa Monica, and D. Rex Hamilton, M.D., director of the UCLA Laser Refractive Center, urge people to protect their eyes from bright sunlight as a way to reduce the progression of cataracts and the risk of macular degeneration. It also is important for patients with diabetes to have an annual eye exam and immediately ask their doctor to assess any vision complaints.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.