What Causes Vision Loss in Seniors?

It’s not uncommon for seniors to experience vision loss. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), in fact, approximately one in three seniors suffers from at least vision-related eye disease. Of course, some forms of vision loss are more severe than others. Regardless, they can all affect a senior’s quality of life. As a result, you might be wondering what causes vision loss in seniors.

Why Vision Loss Is a Concern for Seniors

Even if a senior isn’t clinically blind — defined as having a corrective vision of 20/200 in the senior’s best eye — poor vision is still a concern. If a senior suffers from vision loss, he or she is more likely to slip and fall. Slip-and-fall accidents, unfortunately, often lead to emergency room visits for seniors. Therefore, vision loss is certainly a concern for seniors and other older adults.

Seniors who suffer from vision loss may also have trouble taking medication. According to the American Association of Consultant Pharmacists (AACP), the average senior takes over 15 prescription medications per year. Seniors must be able to see clearly so that they sort out the appropriate dosage while also reading the medication’s side effects and other information listed on the label. If a senior suffers from vision loss, he or she may take the wrong medication or the wrong dosage.

Macular Degeneration

The most common cause of vision loss in seniors is macular degeneration. Characterized by damage to the retina, it’s the leading cause of permanent vision loss in seniors. The retina is responsible for a senior’s field of vision. When a senior’s retina is damaged, he or she may have trouble seeing through the affected eye. Macular degeneration is an eye disease that involves vision-reducing damage to the retina.

Risk factors for macular degeneration include the following:

  • History of smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Age

Glaucoma

Along with macular degeneration, glaucoma is often responsible for age-related vision loss. Statistics show roughly 8% of all cases of blindness are associated with glaucoma. What is glaucoma exactly? Glaucoma refers to any number of eye diseases in which the optic nerve becomes blocked, thereby restricting the senior’s vision.

There are two primary types of glaucoma: open angle and closed angle. With open-angle glaucoma, the drainage pit for the eye fluid remains open. With closed-angled glaucoma, on the other hand, the drainage pit remains closed. In seniors and other people, open-angle glaucoma is more common than its closed-angle counterpart.

Cataracts

Cataracts can also cause vision loss in seniors. A cataract is a medical condition in which the lens of the eye develops a foggy or cloudy tint. Like macular degeneration and glaucoma, it can occur in either one or both eyes. As the senior’s eye or eyes develop this cloudy tint, his or her vision may decrease.

Most cataracts are age related, meaning seniors develop them naturally. A report published by the National Eye Institute (NEI) found that over two in three seniors aged 80 and older suffer from cataracts. Why are seniors are more susceptible to cataracts that younger adults? The reason for the high rate of cataracts among seniors is because of protein degradation. As a senior ages, the proteins in his or her eye degrade. Over time, the loss of these proteins can lead to cloudy lenses, resulting in the formation of a cataract.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Finally, diabetic retinopathy is a disease that can adversely affect a senior’s vision. Also known simply as diabetic eye disease, it’s a form of vision loss that’s caused specifically by diabetes. This condition occurs as a result of high blood sugar levels harming the blood vessels in the retina.

Seniors who’ve had diabetes for a prolonged period, such as 10 or more years, often suffer from diabetic retinopathy. When diabetes goes unmanaged, it can lead to a variety of other medical conditions, including diabetic retinopathy.

How to Help Seniors With Vision Loss

If you know a senior who suffers from vision loss, there a few things you can do to help. For starters, make sure the senior’s home or living space is well lit. Insufficient lighting can compound the effects of vision loss to create a dangerous environment for seniors. With proper lighting, the senior will be able to see more clearly.

Because vision loss increases the risk of slip-and-fall accidents, you should clean up the senior’s home or living space to ensure it’s free of tripping hazards. From extension cords and loose rugs to boxes and short furniture, countless items can pose a slip-and-fall hazard to seniors.

You should also encourage the senior to see if an optometrist if he or she hasn’t already done so. Depending on the senior’s condition, as well as the severity of his or her vision loss, an optometrist may recommend prescription glasses or contact lenses.

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