Vision impairment is a natural outcome of aging. According to the National Library of Medicine, while there are less than 20 per cent of people above 50 years of age globally, over 80 per cent of them are living with blindness.
This World Senior Citizen’s Day, doctors say that ‘age-related macular degeneration‘ (AMD) — a retinal disease — can cause permanent vision loss. It is characterised by the loss of tissue in the macula, causing distorted or blurred central vision.
Diabetes-related retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME) is another progressive retinal disease that affects the retina and causes blurred or foggy vision, experts say, adding that diabetes is a contributing condition for potential blindness that goes under-diagnosed.
Dr Ashraya Nayaka T. E., senior consultant vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Foundation, Coimbatore said that the prevalence of AMD in India ranges from 39.5 per cent to 0.3 per cent, and these proportions are likely to increase over time.
“To ensure better retinal health, elderly people should undertake periodic retinal evaluation with an ophthalmologist, wear prescribed glasses regularly, adhere to treatment and control diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia. It is of utmost importance to follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly,” the doctor advised.
Adding to this, Prof. (Dr) Mahipal S Sachdev, chairman, medical director and senior consultant ophthalmologist said if detected in time, all age-related eye problems are treatable and, to some extent, reversible. “Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and hypertensive retinopathy all are practically asymptomatic in the early stages but may lead to irreversible vision loss if no intervention is given. Hence, the most important thing for all elderly people is routine screening eye tests.”
The doctor added that blood-sugar control, control of blood pressure, and annual health checks are important.
According to them, vision loss among the elderly must not be shrugged off as an “inevitable effect of aging”. They shared the following five tips for better vision for senior citizens.
1. Do not skip eye examinations: It is crucial to regularly visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist to get your eyes checked. Detecting a problem early can not only protect your vision but also help in preventing vision loss. Even the elderly with good vision, who do not wear contacts or glasses should go for regular eye examinations. This can prevent infections and detect progressive diseases.
2. Adhere to the prescribed treatment: A specialist determines whether you need to be treated for dry eyes, tear duct blockages, or progressive diseases like AMD and DME. AMD can be effectively treated with drugs and laser therapy, and patients can use low-vision aids for day-to-day use.
3. Monitor blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol: High blood pressure and cholesterol, if left unchecked, can damage other organs, including the eyes. Diabetes contributes to severe retinal damage in the elderly. Keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels within the normal range will ensure better retinal health.
4. Protect your eyes: Avoid exposing the naked eye to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays can damage the retina. Use UV-coated sunglasses when you step out, or glasses prescribed by a specialist if you are already seeking retinal or eye treatment.
5. Choose a healthier lifestyle: Quit smoking if you are already facing certain retinal diseases. Smoking can contribute to and also accelerate vision loss. Your diet plays a vital role. Consider foods that have antioxidants and vital minerals to fight off free radicals that can damage the retina. Eat fruits and leafy vegetables, eggs, red meat, and shellfish. Walnuts, cold-water fish, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that can preserve retinal health.
Dr Sachdev said caregivers must be vigilant about identifying early signs of vision loss, and they may assist patients in frequent follow-ups, timely eye-drop application, treatment adherence and endless support.