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The Visual Changes of Older Americans

Nutrition, including green leafy vegetables, is key in preventing changes to vision as we get older.
Nutrition, including green leafy vegetables, is key in preventing changes to vision as we get older.

In the United States, more than 50% of the population is over the age of 40, while 16% is over the age of 65. The majority of these Americans are unaware of the effects that aging has on vision. The structure and health of the eyes changes as we get more birthday candles on our cake, leading to visual changes. As patients, we need to be informed on how our vision will change and what prevention is available.

What conditions affect the vision of older Americans? Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, caused by uncontrolled diabetes damaging the retina vasculature. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in adults 65 years and older. This eye disease causes central vision loss affecting reading, driving, and watching TV. Cataracts of the clear crystalline lens cause a progressive cloudiness that dulls colors and increases glare. Dry eye can occur when an insufficient amount or poor tear quality is produced. A lack of quality tears can decrease clear vision and eye health. Glaucoma is a hereditary disease of the optic nerve that begins as a loss of peripheral vision, but can progress to total blindness if undiagnosed or untreated.

What can you do to protect your eye health? Nutrition is an important component of maintaining healthy eyes. Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in broccoli, spinach, corn, green beans, peas, and oranges, help prevent macular degeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in tuna, salmon, and herring, can decrease systemic inflammation and prevent dry eyes. An overall healthy diet can prevent and control diabetes. Plus, regular use of UV-blocking sunglasses are essential to prevent macular degeneration, cataracts, and the effects of dry eye. In the end, the best way to prevent and monitor the effects of aging on vision is to schedule a routine yearly eye exam, and consult your eye doctor more frequently if you have any questions or concerns.