Office for the Aging

 
 

June is Cataract Awareness Month

June is Cataract Awareness month, and 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 the 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.

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 your symptoms with your eye doctor. It's often better to have cataracts removed before they advance too far. Also, you 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.

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.

Discussing safe driving is a natural extension of the talk about aging and vision. Some considerations can be found below.

Eyesight and Driving
Studies show that many older Americans ignore the need for eye exams. Nearly half of today’s older adults have never had a dilated eye exam. Worse, vision screening requirements for older drivers are lax in many states.

Following these steps can help you maintain healthy eyes and clear vision, along with a good driving record:

  1. Have your eyes examined annually. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye exams for anyone over age 60. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can make sure your eyes don't show any serious age-related changes such as macular degeneration.
    Also, with certain common eye conditions such as presbyopia, your eyeglasses prescription may need more frequent changes to help you maintain optimum eyesight.
  2. Consider wearing special eyeglasses. Anti-reflective coatings can cut down on glare. Also, lenses developed with wavefront diagnostic technology may be able to reduce halos, starbursts, glare and other problems caused by eye aberrations.
  3. Reduce your speed when driving at night. As we get older, our pupils get smaller and don't dilate as quickly in the dark. Because of this and other normal age-related changes in the eye, only about one-third as much ambient light reaches your retinas in your 60s, compared with when you were in your 20s.
    This loss of light transmittance significantly reduces night vision, which is why you should reduce your driving speed at night to compensate.
  4. Seek the best care for age-related disease. If you have cataracts, for example, implantation of an aspheric intraocular lens during your cataract surgery may provide sharper vision and better contrast sensitivity than a traditional, spherical intraocular lens.
    If you have diabetes, get your eyes examined at least once yearly and closely follow your doctor's recommendations regarding your diet, medications and lifestyle to reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy, which can cause severe vision loss without warning.

The federal government’s National Eye Institute provides a list of resources for those who are in need of financial aid to assess or treat an eye problem.

Age Related Changes in Vision and Driving Safely
Age-related vision changes and eye diseases can compromise driving ability, even before a person is aware of symptoms such as difficulty judging distances and speed. Bright sunlight or the headlights of oncoming traffic at night may also impair vision as we age.

Some age-related vision changes that commonly affect older adult drivers are:

  • Not being able to see road signs as clearly
  • Having difficulty seeing objects up close like the car instrument panel or road maps
  • Changes in color perception
  • Problems seeing in low light or nighttime conditions
  • Difficulty adapting to glare from headlights
  • Experiencing a loss of side vision

For more information about cataracts and other eye diseases, visit AARP, Inc.