With age comes eye problems


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 11:18 a.m.
Most of us are not ready to take the alternative to living with the aging process. I am willing to accept the fact that my aging will end, but as my sister always says, "I'm heaven-bound, but I am not homesick."
I always feel energized by the fact that I'm still here, and the fact that I am older does not compute in my head as well as it does in my body. These changes include vision.
Have you ever watched as someone stretched their arm its full length in order to read the print on a document? You are probably witnessing a person in their 40s deal with the age-related change in their visual acuity (clarity).
Chances are this person is long overdue for a visit with their ophthalmologist. Vision changes are one of the most common occurrences of aging. There, of course, are those lucky people who are unaffected and therefore do not have to join the eyeglasses- or contacts-wearing population.
Most authorities recommend a yearly exam. Your doctor will let you know after the initial visit if you need to be seen more or less often. If you have not had regular visual screenings and your arms get too short to hold the item you are trying to read, call your eye doctor for an appointment. You are long overdue.
OK, I know that there are those of us who go to the store, even the grocery store, and buy a pair of those magnifying glasses that help you overcome your reading problem.
This might satisfy the acuity problem but does not address any other vision problems that are tested for in a complete exam. I know doctors who offer their patients the option of selecting the magnifying glasses, suggesting which level of magnification should be chosen.
Your doctor will screen for one of four conditions during a routine exam that are considered to be the most common conditions that occur with age.
Visual acuity, diminished ability to focus on objects, decreased color vision and the need for more illumination to see objects that were, at one time, clearly visible.
Another important part of the exam is that the doctor will use a special magnifying lens to examine the retina and optic nerve for signs of cataracts, diabetes retinopathy and glaucoma.
So what do the numbers mean? I often talk about the numbers that are relative to our health. With our eyesight, we frequently hear that our vision is 20/20. Do you know what this means? Well, the numbers written as the definition of the status of your ability to see, measure how clearly you are able to do so when you are tested.
The reading of 20/20 indicates that you can see a letter that is an inch high from 20 feet away. It is not unusual for an older person to have vision that measures at 20/100. In this case, the person needs to be 20 feet from an object that a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.
So when I heard a conversation about age-related aches and pains between two people who were certainly old enough to have first-hand experience, I was struck with their accounts of not only their cataract surgery but the number of their friends who had also been treated for this condition.
The condition known as cataract(s) is recognized by the cloudiness that is seen in the eye. Often this cloudiness accompanies the aging process. Research shows that by the age of 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had one repaired.
The treatment for cataract(s) is surgery. This repair is one of the most common surgeries in the United States. This highly successful procedure restores vision. The doctor removes the clouded lens and in most cases, replaces it with a clear, plastic lens.
I found it fascinating to watch this surgery a couple of years ago and was amazed at how well the person that I accompanied to this procedure adjusted afterward.
The condition known as diabetes retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. This disease is caused by changes in the retina from the diabetes.
Early diagnosis is very important and may make the difference in the level of sight that can be saved for a person with diabetes.
Anyone having diabetes is at risk for developing this condition, and the longer the disease (diabetes) exists, the more likely the patient is to develop this condition.
There may not be any indication that this condition exists until it has affected your eyesight, so make sure you get regular eye exams.
Everyone is at risk for developing glaucoma. African Americans older than 40 and everyone older than 60 - especially Mexican Americans and people with a family history of the disease - is at high risk and should be screened at least once a year.
Initially, the vision of a person with glaucoma remains normal and there is no pain. Gradually, side vision begins to fade - objects directly in front of the person are seen clearly but those to the side may be missed. Blindness can result as the field narrows.
Is it worthwhile to schedule a visit with your eye doctor? I hope you think it is and that you will do so right away. While you are making arrangements for yourself, remind a friend or family member to do the same.
Vivian Filer is a retired SFCC professor of nursing. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Fla. 32608, or e-mail questions to news@gainesvilleguardian.com.

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