How does aging affect eyes and vision?

Aging causes a few normal changes, such as loss of near vision in the early 40’s. Once you reach your fifties, other changes include new onset floaters and flashes and cataracts. These are all normal changes that every person will eventually get. In addition, there are hundreds of ocular diseases that exist. It always amazes me how such a little complex structure can have so many conditions.
As you age, it's normal for vision to gradually decline a bit. Treatable eye conditions common in older age include cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye, dry eye conditions and glaucoma, in which the eye builds up pressure that can cause blindness. You should ask a healthcare professional about screening tests.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
You might need two different pairs of glasses to correct your vision as you get older.

Watch the video to learn more about how your vision changes as you get older.
The structure of the eye changes with age, which can ultimately affect vision. Changes in the lens and iris of the eye lead to a decreased ability to focus properly so a person will need to hold an object farther from the eye to get it in focus. Also, the older eye adapts more slowly to changes in lighting conditions due to the pupil becoming more rigid and the lens less clear. These changes increase glare, making driving at night especially difficult. Older individuals also cannot discriminate color differences as well, and contrast becomes less noticeable.
We are all aware that our eyes change with age. Some changes are especially common in maturity and aging. These changes may begin as early as 20. Some changes may be ignored, but some may interfere with daily activities. One common change is a decrease in the size of the pupil of the eye. As a result, less light is allowed into the eye. Some people may simply need a brighter source of light, but the condition becomes more pronounced after age 30.

By the time one reaches 40, the eyes have increasing difficulty focusing up close. This is a normal aging change; the lens inside the eye is unable to focus on nearby objects. This condition is known as presbyopia and occurs with age in varying degrees in everyone. There is no exercise or medication that will reverse the process. “Reading” glasses or bifocals are often necessary although contract lenses may help.

Everyone should have their vision checked at least every two years. If new glasses do not correct this problem, it is strongly recommended that a competent examination by an ophthalmologist be done as soon as possible.
You experience dry eyes when tear glands cannot make enough tears or produce poor quality tears. Allergies can also contribute to eye dryness, which can be uncomfortable. Allergies and dry eyes increase with age. Certain medications can affect your tear output and cause dry eyes. Over-the-counter artificial tears that lubricate the eye are the main treatment for dry eyes.

At age forty, it is important to start getting your eyes examined every one to two years or more often if you have vision problems, a family history of eye problems, former eye injuries, or diabetes.

With age, women lose the ability to see close objects or small print clearly. This is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime. Some find they need reading glasses, or bifocals or progressive lenses, which combine two prescriptions into one pair of glasses. The upper half of bifocals and progressive lenses corrects distance vision and the lower half corrects close-up vision.
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With age comes the inevitable decline of the size of the pupil. When this change occurs it means that the eye will absorb less light and people will require brighter lights in order to see clearly. Additionally, the reduced numbers of receptors can cause insufficient light from getting into the eye. As the cells and receptors lose function or reduce in amount, the eye requires more light. Also, the amount of photons that are required in order to see something or activate a response increases.

Additionally, there is a degeneration of cells, along with the cells inabilities to make a receptors or the ability to make good receptors. Once an individual reaches their 40’s, the lenses inside the eye are unable to focus on objects that are near. This change is called presbyopia.
Visual changes occur with aging. Some changes lead to significant visual impairment in elderly persons that affects their ability to perform daily functions. This functional decline, in turn, results in decreased independence and increased risk for falls, fractures and depression. Since symptoms may be insidious and slowly progressive, early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent blindness and total loss of function.

Leading common causes of visual impairment in the elderly include cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
Laura C. Fine, MD
As eyes age, eyelid muscles weaken, and skin becomes thinner and more flaccid. This can cause the upper lid to droop or the lower lid to sag. Eyelashes and eyebrows may lose their lushness and thin out considerably.

Tear production also drops off, and the oily film that tears provide decreases as lubricating glands in the conjunctiva (transparent membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids) fail. These changes can lead to a buildup of mucus, resulting in stickiness, or make the cornea (curved, transparent dome of tissue at the front of the eye) dry, causing irritation or an uncomfortable, gritty sensation in the eye.

The conjunctiva turns thinner and more fragile with age and takes on a yellowish tinge from an increase in elastic fibers. The sclera also assumes a yellow hue from a collection of lipid, or fat, deposits. Calcium may deposit in the sclera (white of the eye), leading to patches of grayish translucency. The exposed conjunctiva between the lids begins to degenerate, and the cornea can develop an opaque white ring around its edge.

With time, the crystalline lens hardens and loses its elasticity. This makes it more difficult to focus on near objects, a common condition called presbyopia. You might also find that your night vision grows poorer. These changes usually occur simultaneously in both eyes.

Aging can also cause the lens to darken, grow opaque, and in some cases thicken, causing nearsightedness. Clouding of the lens, which is called cataract, usually develops slowly over many years. It may go unnoticed until the cloudiness blocks the central line of sight and impairs vision.

Over time, the anterior chamber (space behind the cornea and in front of the iris -- the colored part of your eye -- that is filled with aqueous humor) in each eye may become shallower in some susceptible individuals, raising the risk for blockage of the aqueous humor drainage system near the iris. This fluid backup may lead to increased pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve; this is called closed-angle glaucoma, which, if left untreated, can cause blindness.

The aging retina (the innermost layer of the eye) thins and may grow less sensitive because of cell loss, a reduced blood supply, or degeneration. Especially prone to deterioration is the macula (area of the retina responsible for sharp central vision); age-related macular degeneration is a serious disease that can steal a person's central vision.

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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.