Clear eyesight helps you tackle tasks like reading, driving, and knitting. Sharp vision is also key to good mental health as you age. Researchers say older people with vision loss have higher rates of depression and a lower level of life satisfaction compared to people who can see clearly.
The choices you make concerning your diet, exercise routine, bedtimes, and more can raise or lower your risk of eye health issues. (Learn more)
After age 60, you'll need to see your doctor for an exam at least once per year. (Learn more) Together, you can reduce your risk of disease, and you can treat conditions early before they impact your ability to see clearly.
Some Vision Shifts Are Normal
If you hoped to have the same visual acuity at 60 that you had at 20, you're not alone. Almost everyone wants to preserve what they have now, so they won't have to deal with age-related changes. Unfortunately, your eyes will change as you age, and sometimes, those shifts alter your ability to see clearly.
Your eyes first shift in your 40s, as a condition called presbyopia begins. The lens in your eye stiffens and muscles weaken. Those two changes make close work difficult, and the problem is progressive. With each passing year, you may find it's harder to see things close up without glasses.
Weaker muscles also mean slow-moving pupils, so your eyes can't react quickly as you move from a dark space to a bright one. You may feel blinded when you:
- Walk out of a movie theater.
- Open the curtains in the morning.
- Are exposed to oncoming car headlights.
- Turn on a reading lamp.
You may also experience a lack of contrast sensitivity, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Your ability to discern an item from its background deteriorates with age.
These changes are certainly bothersome, and they're worth discussing with your doctor. But they should be considered a normal and natural part of the aging process. Your doctor can help you adjust to these shifts with glasses, contacts, or surgery. But it’s unlikely that you'll prevent them from happening.
Diseases Can Also Steal Vision
While some eye changes could be considered inevitable with age, there are others caused by diseases. These problems don't have to be part of your future.
According to the National Institutes of Health, these conditions are common in people older than 60:
- Cataracts: Clouding of the entire visual field is caused by cataracts, and 24.4 million people have them.
- Age-related macular degeneration: Two million people 40 and older have this condition that impairs central vision.
- Diabetic retinopathy: Damage to light-sensitive eye tissues results in speckled vision, and 7.7 million people have it.
- Glaucoma: Rising eye pressure damages the optic nerve in people with this condition, and there are 2.7 million people who have it.
Younger people can develop these conditions too, but doctors say that eye changes that come with age can raise your risk.
Many of these conditions can be treated. For example, your doctor can replace a lens clouded by cataracts with a new, synthetic version. But some conditions cause permanent damage to vision. Your treatment goal in these scenarios is to prevent further damage, so you can preserve what you have now.
Prompt detection is critical, says the American Society on Aging, as many of these conditions come with no warning signs. Since treatment works best when problems are caught early, it's vital to get regular eye exams. Focusing on your lifestyle can also be helpful.
Your Lifestyle Plays a Role
Your eyes will benefit if you focus on:
- Fall prevention. Weaker muscles and low vision can raise your risk of falls, and you can damage your eyes during an incident like this. About half of all eye injuries happen in the home, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and most take hold during home improvement projects. If you're working on your house, make sure you clear the area of debris and watch your step as you work.
- Nutrition. Your eyes need a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables. But changes in your taste buds, your teeth, and your habits can make meal planning difficult. If you live alone, you might lean on prepackaged snacks rather than cooking full meals. A nutritionist can help you learn new cooking techniques that can help you bring joy back to mealtimes.
- Exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is common in seniors, but muscles you don't use can atrophy. When that happens, you have even less strength to handle everyday activities, and your cardiovascular system can suffer. Even short walks around the neighborhood and a few exercises with hand weights can help you to get the blood flowing so your body and your eyes get the nutrition they need.
- Smoking cessation. About 9 percent of adults 65 and older are current or past smokers, says the United Health Foundation. If you've kicked the habit, don't start again. If you're still smoking, talk with your doctor. Each cigarette you smoke can narrow your blood vessels, including the tiny capillaries that serve your eyes. Medications, including nicotine-replacement products, can make quitting a little easier.
- Sleep. Daily damage is repaired as you rest, and your eyes are nourished with tears that don't evaporate behind your closed lids. If you struggle to sleep through the night, you're not alone. Many seniors find it hard to stay asleep. But your doctor can help you learn how to prepare your mind for slumber, so you get the rest you need.
Work With Your Doctor
Often, you'll need your doctor's help to make the right lifestyle changes to help your body and your eyes. But you'll also need to form a connection with an eye doctor. Your eyes are at risk of disease, and a partnership with an ophthalmologist is one of your first lines of defense.
The American Optometric Association says adults 60 and older should have a comprehensive eye exam every year. Your doctor can look for early warning signs of eye disease and provide the right kind of therapy to stop small problems from growing larger.
If you can't remember the last time you saw an eye doctor, it's probably time to make an appointment.
Visual Impairment and Quality of Life Among Older Adults: An Examination of Explanations for the Relationship. (May 2011). The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.
Normal Vision Development in Adults Over 60. (March 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Helping Older Adults See Well for a Lifetime. National Institutes of Health.
Vision and Aging: Helping Older Adults See Well for a Lifetime. American Society on Aging.
Tips for Eye Health in Adults Over 60. (August 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Aging, Nutritional Status, and Health. (July 201). Healthcare.
Sedentary Time, Lack of Activity Tied to Seniors' Loss of Mobility. (September 2017). Reuters.
Smoking in United States in 2018. United Health Foundation.
Insomnia and Older Adults. National Sleep Foundation.
Adult Vision: Over 60 Years of Age. American Optometric Association.