September 2, 2010 1 Comment
Two important awareness campaigns are being observed in September: Healthy Aging Month (sponsored by Healthy Aging) and Sports & Home Eye-Safety Month (promoted by Prevent Blindness America). Combined with the efforts of other health and safety advocates, these campaigns encourage people to maintain a healthy lifestyle, learn about normal and more serious age-related changes in vision, and take measures to protect eyes from damage. This month, LVIB is pleased to highlight articles and studies from the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Department of Ophthalmology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Visual Impairment and General Health
Vision impairment is often connected to other health issues. According to a 2007 article in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness by M. Capella-McDonnall, there is a higher incidence of overweight and obesity among persons with disabilities than among the general population, and the lack of access to recreational and athletic programs that adults who are visually impaired often experience can contribute to this problem. Overweight and obesity have been associated with a greater risk or a faster progression of certain eye diseases such as macular degeneration, maculopathy, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Difficulty preparing meals, inability to read the small print on nutrition labels, limitations in walking as well as environmental barriers such as limited transportation and the lack of accessible exercise equipment contribute to the problem of overweight and obesity among people with impaired vision. Also, visually-impaired persons who are healthier are much more likely to be employed.
Therefore it’s essential that people get or become physically active despite visual impairment, and consume a healthy diet for maintaining an appropriate weight.
Vision and Aging
As we age, there are certain changes to our vision which are to be expected and others which may indicate more serious conditions that warrant medical intervention.
Common changes in vision as you age:
- Reduced sensitivity to light (improved task lighting can help).
- Decreased visual acuity (consider reducing night driving).
- Difficulty reading small print (eyeglasses and magnifiers aid focusing).
According to the Mayo Clinic, aging makes you more prone to developing some of these eye diseases which impair your vision:Cataracts: If your eye’s lens becomes cloudy or if the lens develops opaque areas that block light from passing through, you may have a condition called a cataract. Most cataracts can be detected only with special instruments and treated with surgery. About half of Americans age 80 and older have cataracts or have had cataract surgery.
- Glaucoma: This is a group of diseases usually associated with elevated fluid pressure inside your eyeball. The pressure can damage your optic nerve and cause blind spots to develop. If untreated, Glaucoma can lead to blindness in both eyes. When detected early, glaucoma is treatable with medication or surgery.
- Macular degeneration: Age-related macular degeneration occurs when tissues in the retina which are responsible for the center of your visual field degenerate. As a result, a blind spot develops in the center of your vision. AMD is one of the most frequent causes of vision loss in people over 60. If caught early, treatment might be able to reduce the extent of your vision loss.
- Floaters: As you age, your vitreous can become more liquid, causing floaters (clumps of gel, fibers and cells) that appear as spots and specks floating across your visual field. Most floaters are harmless, but if you suddenly develop a large number, especially if accompanied by flashes of light, it might signal a retinal tear, retinal detachment or possible eye melanoma. In such cases, seek medical attention immediately.
While it is important to consider eye health at every age, older Americans may mistakenly think that serious eye problems are an inevitable part of aging, or that retirement means they are no longer at risk for eye injury.
A study conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Ocular Trauma showed that nearly half of all eye injuries occur, not on the job, but in the home. More than 40% of those are caused by projects and activities such as home repairs, yard work, cleaning and cooking, and falls account for 11% of these injuries. Another 40% of eye injuries each year are related to sports or recreational activities, many of which are enjoyed by older Americans. Fishing, for example, was found by the U.S. Eye Injury Registry to be the number-one cause of sports-related eye injuries. According to the AAO, many sports-related injuries can lead to permanent vision loss, and patients who have sustained eye injuries are at greater risk for developing glaucoma. The AAO points out that the vast majority of eye injuries are sustained by people wearing no protective eyewear.
One of the greatest threats to your eyes, at any age, is exposure to bright sunlight. According to the AAO, exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of developing cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and growths on the eye, including cancer.
Guidelines for protecting your eyes from injury:Choose polycarbonate lenses for non-contact sports, and include additional gear such as face masks and helmets for contact sports.
- Wear American National Standards Institute-approved protective eyewear for activities involving flying debris or chemicals.
- For sun protection, select glasses that block UV and UVB rays, and choose wrap-around styles.
- Make home repairs and modifications to eliminate loose railings and slippery stairs, add cushioning to sharp corners and use slip-proof rugs and bath mats.
- Senior Eye Safety Includes Preventing Slips and Trips
- EyeSmart Eye Health Information
- Age-related Vision Problems
- Capella-McDonnall, M. (2007). The Need for Health Promotion for Adults Who Are Visually Impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment& Blindness, March 2007, Volume 101, No 3, 133-145.