Office for the Aging


June is Cataract Awareness Month

Even though cataracts are considered an age-related eye disease, they are so common among older adults that they can also be classified as a normal aging change.

According to Mayo Clinic, about half of all 65-year-old Americans have some degree of cataract formation in their eyes. As you enter your 70s, the percentage is even higher. It's estimated that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts. As the number one cause of blindness in older adults, cataracts are serious business. Double vision or cloudy vision are early signs of cataracts, and as cataracts become larger, vision will become cloudier.

Thankfully, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and so effective that 100 percent of vision lost to cataract formation usually is restored. If you are noticing vision changes due to cataracts, don't hesitate to discuss symptoms with your eye doctor. It's often better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far. Also, you do have options now for trying multifocal lens implants or accommodating intraocular lenses that potentially can restore all ranges of vision, thus reducing your need for reading glasses.

Other Major Age-Related Eye Diseases
Cataracts are one form of eye disease, but there are others you need to be aware of because many times they can be prevented, treated or the individual can learn techniques to adapt to loss of vision while maintaining their independence.

Macular degeneration: Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among American seniors.

Despite some age-related vision changes that are inevitable, you may be able to keep your eyes healthy for a lifetime.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million people in the United States. The U.S. population is aging rapidly, and this number will increase to almost three million by 2020.

Glaucoma: Your risk of developing glaucoma increases with each decade after age 40, from around 1 percent in your 40s to up to 12 percent in your 80s. The number of Americans with glaucoma will increase by 50 percent (to 3.6 million) by 2020. Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain so it is important to see your eye doctor regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term visual loss occurs.

Diabetic retinopathy: According to the NEI, approximately 10.2 million Americans over age 40 are known to have diabetes. Many experts believe that up to 30 percent of people who have diabetes have not yet been diagnosed. Diabetes occurs when insulin production is inadequate, or because the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. Patients with high blood sugar will typically experience polyuria (frequent urination), they will become increasingly thirsty (polydipsia) and hungry (polyphagia).

Among known diabetics over age 40, NEI estimates that 40 percent have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and one of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy.

What You Can Do About Age-Related Vision Changes
A healthy diet and wise lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, are your best natural defenses against vision loss as you age. Also, you need to have regular eye exams with a caring and knowledgeable optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Be sure to discuss with your eye doctor all concerns you have about your eyes and vision. Tell him or her about any history of eye problems in your family, as well as any other health problems you may have.

Where to Get Help and More Information:
As with any health issue, prevention is the best policy. To discover more about age-related vision, take a look at this PowerPoint presentation, and/or read about preventative benefits to get help.

You can also read more about vision problems on the New York State Department of Health's website.(External Link).