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Vision, Aging and Age-Related Diseases

EyeBy age 50, most of us experience some vision change. As your eyes undergo normal aging changes, you can expect some or all of these changes in vision:
  • Decrease in sharpness of vision
  • Decrease in focusing power
As the lens of the eye becomes less flexible, it is less able to focus. You'll notice it's harder for you to read fine print or see close objects clearly. Called presbyopia, it occurs in the 40's and is correctable with reading glasses or bifocals. For safety, identify medications with large print labels; list emergency phone number in large print near the telephone.
  • Decrease in ability to see differences in colors
The lens of the eye yellows with age and filters out colors at the blue end of the light spectrum, making it harder to see the difference between shades of blue, green and violet.
  • Decrease in ability to judge distances Increased need for light
The eyes' pupils become less able to take in light and less able to adapt to changes in light. You'll likely need more light to see well. Use "warm" bulb lighting instead of "cold" fluorescent lighting; add dimmer switches and three-way bulbs; add nightlights in bathrooms, hallways and bedrooms;
use timers on lamps to avoid having to enter darkened areas.
  • Increased sensitivity to glare
Sunlight, shiny floors, or reading a magazine with shiny pages can cause blurred vision. Try sunglasses with yellow or amber lenses; use mate finish polishes or waxes; order antiglare lenses for your glasses; use an antiglare screen on your computer.
  • Increased spots or specks
Called "floaters", they are most commonly seen against white walls or in bright sunlight. They're annoying, but are normal and harmless. However, if floaters appear with flashes of light or if they change suddenly, see your eye doctor.
  • Increased or decreased tearing

Dry, itching, burning eyes occur when the tear glands don't produce enough tears. It may also be a sign of an infection or blocked tear duct which needs to be treated. These eye diseases are more common after 65:
  • Cataracts – Normally, the lens of the eye is clear. A cataract causes the lens to become cloudy. Vision becomes hazy and blurred. The surgery is painless and has a high degree of success. The symptoms are blurred or dimmed vision; a film-like fog over the eye; sensitivity to light and glare; change in pupil color from black to milky grey, yellow or white; faded colors; double vision or spots.
  • Glaucoma – Your eye has an internal "plumbing" system that constantly circu-lates and drains fluid from the eyes. A blockage or too much fluid production can cause pressure build up and damage the optic nerve. If detected early, it can be controlled with special eye drops. Yearly eye exams are important because early stage glaucoma has no symptoms. Advancing glaucoma symptoms include blurred vision; halos or colored rings around lights, eye pain or redness, and loss of side vision.
  • Macular Degeneration – Wear and tear of the macula, a small area of the retina responsible for fine acute vision, causes loss of central or straight ahead vision. It is the most common cause of new cases of legal blindness for people over 55. The symptoms include dark, empty or blurred space in center of vision; words on a page blur or disappear; straight lines appear bent or wavy.
It isn't clear what causes macular degeneration and most eyecare professionals will tell you there is no way to prevent it, but a few studies suggest that antioxidant vitamins and some minerals could greatly reduce the risk.
  • The Beaver Dam Eye Study showed an increased risk for macular degeneration in patients with the lowest levels of the antioxidant, lycopene – found in fruits, veg-etables and…Pure Red Power.
  • The Baltimore Longitudinal Study for Aging found that higher blood levels of vita-mins E and C seem to protect people from macular degeneration.
  • The Eye Disease Case Control Study has found that higher serum carotenoid (beta carotene) levels seem to protect people from macular degeneration.
  • The Macular Degeneration Risk Factor Study has found less of the most serious type of macular degeneration in patients with high antioxidant blood levels.
  • A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology (February 1988) showed vision was less likely to deteriorate in macular degeneration patients who were treated with zinc supplementation. Zinc was studied because retinal zinc concentrations are usu-ally high, and zinc is an important cofactor in retinal enzymes.
  • A study published in JAMA (November 9, 1994) reported that consumption of foods rich in the specific carotenoids, lutein and zeaxan-thin resulted in the most reduced risk for macular degeneration. Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as collard greens and spinach, are especially rich in these carotenoids and were specifically linked to substantially reduced risk.
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