Older adults are particularly at risk for vision loss. The World Health Organization (WHO) says about 253 million people worldwide are visually impaired. Of these, 36 million are blind. The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that about one in three people aged 65+ has some form of vision-reducing eye disease.
Common Causes of Vision Loss in Older Adults
AMD is a condition that affects the macula, the part of the eye responsible for sharp, central vision. It is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, and the risk of developing AMD increases with age.
Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye that can cause vision to become blurry or distorted. They are common in older adults and can usually be treated with surgery.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve carries information from the eye to the brain. It is often associated with increased pressure in the eye and can lead to vision loss if left untreated.
You can prevent or slow vision loss by taking steps to protect and care for your eyes. There are several steps older adults can take to help prevent vision loss:
Have regular eye exams: It is important for older adults to have regular eye exams to detect any potential vision problems early on. This can help to prevent vision loss or at least slow its progression.
Protect your eyes from the sun: Wearing sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays can help to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays and reduce the risk of vision loss.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients can help to support eye health. In particular, foods that are high in antioxidants, such as leafy green vegetables and berries, may help to reduce the risk of vision loss.
Don’t smoke: Smoking is a major risk factor for vision loss and a variety of other serious health problems. If you smoke, consider quitting to protect your vision and overall health.
Manage chronic health conditions: Certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can increase the risk of vision loss. It is important to manage these conditions and follow your doctor’s recommendations to help prevent vision loss.
Wear protective eyewear: If you work in a job or engage in activities that pose a risk to your eyes (such as using power tools or playing sports), be sure to wear protective eyewear to help prevent injuries and vision loss.
Coping With Vision Loss
If your loved one has experienced vision loss, there are several ways you can help them cope with this change:
Offer emotional support: Losing vision can be a difficult and emotional experience, and it is important to be there for your loved one and offer them emotional support as they adjust to this change.
Assist with everyday tasks: There may be certain tasks that your loved one can no longer do on their own because of their vision loss. You can help by assisting with things like reading labels, preparing meals, and managing medications.
Help them stay active: Encourage your loved one to stay active and engaged in activities they enjoy, even if they have to modify. For example, they might enjoy listening to audiobooks, participating in social activities, or going for walks with someone who can guide them.
Explore assistive technology: There are many different types of assistive technology that can help people with vision loss live more independently. This might include magnifiers, screen reading software, or audiobooks. Help your loved one explore these options and find the tools that work best for them.
Encourage them to seek professional help: It is important for your loved one to have regular check-ups with an eye care professional and to follow any treatment recommendations. You can help by reminding them of appointments and assisting with transportation if needed.
Remember, it can take time for your loved one to adjust to vision loss. It is important to be patient and supportive as they navigate this change.
There are local and national organizations that offer support and resources for people with vision loss. Here are a few examples:
The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest organization of blind and low-vision individuals in the United States. They offer resources, support, and advocacy for people with vision loss.
The American Foundation for the Blind is a national nonprofit organization that provides resources, support, and advocacy for people with vision loss. They offer information on adaptive technology, support groups, and other resources for people with vision loss.
The American Council of the Blind is a national advocacy organization that provides support, resources, and advocacy for people with vision loss. They offer information on assistive technology, support groups, and other resources for people with vision loss.
Liz Craven, co-publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide with her husband Wes, combines personal experience and heartfelt dedication in her work. Their journey in eldercare began with a personal story—caring for Wes' grandmother, Mabel, who lived with Alzheimer's. This chapter in their lives not only highlighted the complexities of eldercare but also kindled a deep-seated passion to support others facing similar challenges. Since then, Liz and Wes have navigated caregiving three more times. These experiences have added layers of depth to their insights, allowing them to offer a blend of empathetic understanding and practical advice through the Sage Aging ElderCare Guide. Liz’s commitment to making eldercare more approachable and less daunting shines through in every piece of advice she offers, aiming to ease the caregiving journey for others.