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MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Tips for managing elderly eye health

Age-related vision issues are common in later life so it is important to be aware of any changes.

February 13, 2023

Elderly man at opticians

Age can affect the eyes and vision in several different ways. As age-related vision changes usually happen very gradually over time, it can be very difficult to notice them at all. However, changes to vision can have a big impact on various areas of life so it’s important to be vigilant for any signs so that steps can be taken to help manage elderly eye health properly.

In this article, we look at how age can affect eyesight and the effects of vision loss in the elderly, along with tips for how best to assist someone in their later years to manage eye health.

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What age does eyesight start to deteriorate?

While everyone is different, many people with normally good eyesight may start to notice some changes from the age of around 40 onwards. Often, the changes occur so gradually that it can be many months, or even years, before they become obvious to the person themselves and those around them.

Some age-relation vision changes are normal and don’t affect daily living to a great extent, whereas others might have a bigger impact on activities (such as the ability to drive safely) and may require specific treatment and/or lifestyle changes.

Those who have been diagnosed with a condition related to their eyes or vision earlier in life may notice changes too. For example, their existing glasses or contact lens prescription might change more frequently as they get older.

For many people, wearing reading glasses or prescription changes might be all that they need to do to counteract the age-relation vision changes they experience. Others may need other treatment, depending on the condition and the impact that it’s having on their life and health.

Elderly man struggling to see clearly

 

Elderly eye health: Common conditions

Some of the most common age-related changes to vision include:

Presbyopia

Most people develop presbyopia as they age, and it can start anytime from around age 40. If affects the ability of the eye to focus on things that are close, so usually the first sign is that the person finds it harder to read or use something like a smartphone.

People with presbyopia might start to hold objects further from them in order to properly focus on them, often without realising that’s what they are doing at first.

For the majority of people with presbyopia, reading glasses may be needed when trying to focus on things close-by. Some people can benefit from varifocal lenses that will help their vision at various distances.

Cataracts

Another common age-related condition that affects vision is cataracts, which can be in one or both eyes. Cloudy patches develop in the eye’s lens, which can cause misty or blurry vision. When cataracts are in the early stage, a glasses prescription can help in the short term but surgery is usually required to replace the clouded eye lens.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name for a number of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve. Glaucoma usually occurs as a result of pressure building up in the eyes and if it isn’t treated properly, it can cause permanent damage to sight because of damage to the optic nerve.

Glaucoma affects around 5% of people over the age of 80, so is quite common, and the risks of developing glaucoma can be heightened if the individual has diabetes, high blood pressure or low blood pressure.

Unfortunately, the most common type of glaucoma often doesn’t present with any symptoms until the eyesight is affected, so is usually diagnosed in its earlier stages during a routine regular eye test.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD is one of the most common reasons for elderly vision problems, and often has such a gradual onset that people don’t notice it for some time. It usually results in blurry central vision, which means that tasks like reading, writing, watching television or using devices like smartphones can be difficult. Over time, the blurriness can spread so that more and more of the field of vision is affected.

AMD is usually diagnosed with a standard eye test and there might be a referral to a specialist if the condition is detected.

Age-related reduced pupil size

The muscles that control how the pupils react to light can lose strength due to aging. This can mean that the pupils become smaller and can’t respond as well to changes in light. This can mean that some older people can be more easily dazzled by things like sunlight or the headlights of another car on the road, which can cause issues when driving at night.

A sign that this could be affecting someone is when they need extra light for doing normal activities such as reading comfortably.

Dry eyes

In later life, the body produces fewer tears, and this can cause dry eyes for some older people. A sign can be a burning feeling, stinging or itchy eyes. While not necessarily being a condition that affects vision directly, the symptoms can mean that things look a little blurry or it can be painful to keep the eyes open for long periods of time.

Dry eyes can often be treated effectively with eye drops that can be prescribed by a GP or optician.

Older man with dry eyes

 

The effects of vision loss in the elderly

The effects of vision loss in the elderly can be significant. Depending on the extent of the changes to their vision, it can not only have practical implications for daily life, it can also have a big impact on confidence and their sense of independence.

For some older people, age-related vision changes might mean that they are no longer able to drive, which can have a huge impact on them socially. Alongside this, someone elderly with vision problems can be more at risk of a fall or accident within the home or when out and about, if they can’t see trip hazards or other dangers as well as they used to.

People who have reduced vision can often feel vulnerable and might stop doing some of the things they enjoy if they lose confidence due to elderly eye health issues. This can lead to social isolation, elderly loneliness, feeling low and sometimes depression. It can also mean that they are less active and live a more sedentary lifestyle, which can increase their risk of developing many different health conditions.

Loss or changes to vision can also mean that older people might not be able to access health services or read important letters that arrive in the post, such as bills or changes to their essential services.

For some, losing some of their vision can also mean that they might start to struggle with daily living activities such as cooking and cleaning, which can also pose risks to health, safety and general wellbeing.

It can sometimes be the case that the older person doesn’t realise or want to admit that they might have a problem with their sight, but the people around them may notice some changes to behaviour and will need to speak to them about it. This can be quite challenging, especially if the age-related vision changes mean that permanent lifestyle adjustments are needed. Find out more about how to talk to elderly people about lifestyle changes.

Elderly lady struggling with eyesight

 

Helping someone elderly with vision problems

If an elderly loved one is experiencing some problems with their eyesight, it can affect many areas of their life and have emotional and mental health implications, as well as the physical and practical ones. Every individual is different, but some of the ideas below might help your loved one if they are dealing with an eye condition or reduced vision.

  • Ensure they get regular check ups with an optician, at least every 1-2 years, and more often if they notice any changes to their vision between routine appointments. NHS eye tests are free for over 60s, every two years
  • Ensure there is good lighting at home, so an extra lamp could be handy in areas where they regularly carry out activities. For example, a lamp next to the chair they usually use when reading or extra lights in the kitchen, so that all of the surfaces are well-lit
  • Do a risk assessment at home to minimise the chances of falls and other kinds of accidents. There might be some adjustments needed or mobility aids and equipment that could also help, such as looking at the bathroom layout, as well as keeping walkways clear of clutter and making sure that all rooms have adequate lighting
  • Ensure that things around the home are well organised so that essentials are easier to find, such as keys, remote controls and mobile phones, as well as favourite foods in the kitchen cupboards etc.
  • Consider special devices designed for older people with vision challenges, such as a mobile phone with large icons, a voice assistant, a screen reader and other kinds of elderly-friendly smart technology, if they are happy to learn how to use them
  • Provide moral support by going with them to any appointments they have, such as medical appointments, service appointments etc if they feel vulnerable when going alone. They may also need some help with reading post or emails that they receive.
  • Consider a monitored personal alarm system, including a wearable alarm which has a simple one-button alert so that help can be reached quickly if there is an accident, a fall or another kind of emergency. View our full range of products to find the best personal alarm for your circumstances.

Experiencing changes to vision in later life can be frightening, confusing and very worrying for some people, so being there to provide whatever support they need can make a huge difference and help them live a full and independent life for as long as possible.

Support to keep older relatives independent

If you’d like more information on how different types of personal alarm can help provide peace of mind for both you and your elderly loved one if experiencing some age-related vision changes, our team would love to help. Enquire on our website or call Independent Living Advisors on 0800 085 7371.

Freephone 0800 0875 7371

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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