“20/20” is the standard for good vision, making this a great time to think about ways to take care of our eyes, both for now and as an investment in our future health and independence.
Four million seniors today are living with vision loss, and that number will climb as our population ages. Vision loss can be caused by genetic factors, age-related changes to the eyes, injuries, and certain health conditions.
Here are 10 resolutions that can help you prevent vision loss, or make the most of the vision you have:
1. Toast safely! Let’s start with a timely and appropriate reminder. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) warns us that during our New Year’s Eve festivities, we should take care to avoid eye injury from champagne corks. The AAO offers some helpful hints for popping the bubbly safely. And talk to your doctor about other ways to prevent eye injuries, such as wearing safety glasses during sports or other risky activities.
2. Get an eye exam. Many eye conditions develop slowly, and damage can be done before we notice there’s a problem. It’s recommended that we get a comprehensive, dilated eye exam at least once a year beginning at age 60, and earlier if we’re at higher risk or have symptoms of vision problems. An ophthalmologist can diagnose conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome — and at an early stage, when these conditions might be reversed or slowed with special eye supplements, other medications, or surgical treatment.
3. If you notice sudden vision changes, don’t wait. Report them promptly. Redness, sudden blurriness, eye pain, flashes of light, a spot of lost vision or trouble focusing mean it’s time to call the doctor right away. Some of these changes could be temporary and harmless. But others, such as acute glaucoma or a retinal tear, need to be treated immediately to minimize permanent damage to your vision.
4. Keep your glasses or contact lens prescription up to date. Some people purchase eyeglasses and wear them for years without an eye check. Bad idea! Over time, our vision can change without us noticing, and that outdated prescription can cause headaches, raise our risk of falling, and make it more likely we’ll have a car accident. Your eye care professional can not only prescribe the proper correction, but also advise you on the type of lenses that are best for you.
5. If your eyes feel dry, tell your doctor. This is the season when indoor heating removes moisture from the air — and from our eyes. Dry eye also can be caused by certain medications and health conditions, or even by prolonged computer use. The doctor might recommend eye drops and using a humidifier. In some cases, surgery is advised. Dry eye disease can damage vision, so don’t ignore it.
6. Protect your eyes from the sun. You can actually get sunburn of the eye, and exposure to the sun can cause permanent eye damage. Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when you’re in the sun. And though it’s tempting to select a pair of sunglasses by style alone — who doesn’t want to look hip or glamorous? — check the label first to be sure the lenses block 100% of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Lens color doesn’t matter, but bigger is better to give you maximum coverage.
7. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Many health practices that support heart health, brain health and overall good health also lower the risk of eye disease. As you might guess, “quit smoking” is at the top of the list. In addition, get plenty of exercise, follow a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and veggies, and maintain a healthy weight. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for managing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other conditions that can lead to eye damage.
8. Get a shingles shot. When we think of shingles, most of us think of the painful rash caused by the disease. But one of the most serious side effects of shingles happens when the virus infects the nerves of the eye, which can damage the cornea and raise the risk of other eye conditions. A vaccine called Shingrix is recommended for everyone age 50 and older; if you had an older type of vaccine, ask your doctor if you also should get the new shot.
9. If you are already living with vision loss, ask your doctor about vision rehabilitation. Vision rehab professionals can help you make the best of your remaining vision by recommending optical and magnifying devices, teaching you new ways of doing things, and helping you adapt your home to better meet your needs. If cost is an issue, talk to your doctor; resources are available.
10. Keep up with your eye care regimen. If you’re living with a serious eye condition, it can seem that managing your eye health is a full-time job. For example, people with advanced age-related macular degeneration or diabetic eye disease might need an eye exam and an injection into the eye as often as once per month. If you can’t drive to these appointments (and your doctor may advise you not to, even if you still drive), find alternate transportation. If you’re using professional in-home care, the caregiver can accompany you to appointments. To keep things in perspective, consider that we are extremely fortunate to live in a time when many eye conditions can be treated!
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.