The American Academy of Ophthalmology – the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons – is issuing seven tips to help older adults take care of their eyes as they age to ensure longer independence and wellbeing. The Academy is offering the advice as part of its efforts to support the National Eye Institute’s Healthy Vision Month this May.
In the United States, one in six Americans over age 65 has a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. This is often caused by common eye conditions and diseases. Among older Americans, visual impairment is one of the most significant contributors to loss of independence; it is also associated with a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions, falls, injuries, depression and social isolation.,
Though many vision-impairing eye diseases are age-related – such as cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration – in most cases proactive steps and preventative care can help preserve sight. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that seniors follow these seven tips to help protect their vision:
1. Get an Eye Exam. Adults age 65 and over should get a medical eye exam every one-to-two years. Regular eye exams are crucial in detecting changes in vision, which may be a symptom of a treatable eye disease or condition.
Seniors who have not had an eye exam in the last three years and for whom cost is a concern may qualify for EyeCare America (www.eyecareamerica.org), a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which delivers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older through its corps of more than 6,000 volunteer ophthalmologists.
“Some eye diseases have no obvious symptoms in their early stages unless detected during a comprehensive eye exam, so older adults should make these appointments a priority,” said Charles P. Wilkinson, M.D., ophthalmologist and chair of EyeCare America. “Detecting and treating eye problems early can make all the difference in saving a person’s vision as well as their independence.”
2. Know the Symptoms of Vision Loss. Signs of vision loss may become apparent as reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving a car and/or recognizing faces become more difficult. Vision loss that may be noticed by friends and family include missing, bumping into or knocking over objects, stepping hesitantly, and squinting or tilting the head when trying to focus.
3. Make Eye-Healthy Food Choices. A diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains benefits the entire body, including the eyes. Studies show that foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin are good for eye health. These nutrients are linked to lower risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and dry eye later in life. Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and cold water fish.
4. Quit Smoking. Avoiding smoking and second hand smoke – or quitting, for current smokers – are some of the best investments everyone can make for long-term eye health. Smoking increases risk for eye diseases like cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and raises the risks for cardiovascular diseases that indirectly influence eyes’ health. Tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke, also worsens dry eye.
5. Maintain normal blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. High blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) levels all increase the risk of vision loss from an eye disease. Keeping these under control will not only help one’s eyes but also overall health.
6. Get Regular Physical Activity. Not only does 30 minutes of exercise a day benefit one’s heart, waistline and energy level, it can also do the eyes a world of good! Many eye diseases are linked to other health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
7. Wear Sunglasses. Exposure to ultra violet (UV) light raises the risks of eye diseases, including cataract, growths on the eye and cancer. Always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, and a hat while enjoying time outdoors.
For more information about keeping eyes healthy throughout life, visit www.geteyesmart.org.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons – Eye M.D.s – with more than 32,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three “O’s” – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who has the education and training to treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy’s EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.
About EyeCare America
Established in 1985, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education. EyeCare America provides year-round eye care services to medically underserved seniors and those at increased risk for eye disease. More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided at no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc., with additional support provided by Alcon and Genentech. More information can be found at www.eyecareamerica.org.
 Alliance for Aging Research, Independence for Older Americans: An Investment for Our Nation’s Future, 1999