Aging affects our eyes and the older we get the greater is the chance to develop eye conditions that can lead to vision loss like cataracts. In fact, the National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that by age 80 more than half of all American seniors have cataracts or have had surgery for cataracts. Cataracts that occur before age 60 are small in size and usually go unnoticed. However, these may continue to grow and and so from age 60 and over they may begin to cause vision problems.
Risks for Developing Cataracts
- Exposure to radiation
- Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun
- Steroid drugs
- Following surgery for other eye problems like glaucoma
- Eye injuries and trauma to the eye can lead to developing a cataract years after the injury
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
What are Cataracts
A cataract is caused when some of the protein in the lens of the eye begins to form in a clump which begins very small, but over time will get bigger and cause clouding over the lens of the eye. This causes blurred vision.
Symptoms of Cataracts
Some of the following symptoms may not only be from cataracts, but can be from other serious eye problems. In many cases, the earlier treatment begins, the greater is the chance to save vision. The main thing is to immediately go to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for a comprehensive eye exam. See our blog post from February 27, 2019 about age-related macular degeneration (AMD). See also our post from January 15, 2019 about diabetic retinopathy.
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Faded colors
- Seeing images in double in the eye with the cataract
- Prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses that need to be changed frequently.
- Poor night vision
- Lights are too bright and give off too much glare like headlights. These can be so bright that it may be dangerous to drive at night for people with cataracts. Also, glare from sunlight is too bright, but this can be helped by wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet radiation.
There is no real treatment other than taking steps to prevent further damage to the eyes and if these do not help then surgery may be called for. The following steps may prevent getting cataracts or prevent them from getting bigger:
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses that protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the eyes from the sun.
- Stop smoking, as smoke from cigarettes irritates the eyes.
- Eat lots of leafy green and colorful red, yellow and orange vegetables. Eat plenty of fruit, especially oranges, tangerines and apricots. Research has shown that people who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables have a lower risk for some age-related eye diseases like AMD.
Surgery for Cataracts
Fortunately, cataracts can be removed by surgery that removes the damaged lens from the eye and replaces it with an artificial lens. Surgery is usually successful for 90% of the people who have the operation and they can see better. Surgery is not without risks, however, so it should be used only when really necessary.
Risks and Complications from Surgery
- Infections and sometimes they can be serious enough to lead to vision loss
- An “after cataract” can develop which also causes clouding around the artificial lens and this can take place months or even years after surgery.
- In some cases the surgery increases the chance for getting a detached retina, especially in people who are very near-sighted. A detached retina causes no pain, but is a medical emergency. A detached retina may need to be treated in an emergency room or a hospital. Signs of a detached retina may be a sudden increase in seeing flashes or floaters in front of the eye.
Cataracts and Alzheimer’s Disease
Doctors and caregivers are divided on whether or not cataract surgery should be performed on people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Those that are in favor believe that seeing more clearly is beneficial, especially to avoid falls, which are so common in people with dementia. Also, seeing clearly may help demented people to recognize their loved ones.
Those that are against cataract surgery for demented people believe that people with dementia are poor candidates for surgery and it will not improve their quality of life or ability to recognize people.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is carrying out a trial to see if cataract surgery is beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s.
People with age-related eye problems may also be suffering from chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, advanced kidney disease, chronic lung diseases, dementia and more. The day may come when the best treatment for your loved one will be in a long-term skilled nursing care facility like the Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey. Park Crescent offers expert 24/7 care at the hands of a warm and caring staff.
Since aging is a risk for several serious eye conditions including cataracts it pays to do all we can to protect our eyes from vision loss. The most important thing for seniors over age 60 is to go for an annual comprehensive eye ex