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Your Vision in the Senior Years

It's normal for vision to change as you get older. With good eye care, you can often limit the impact those changes have on your daily life. You might just need new glasses, contact lenses, or better lighting.

Common age-related vision changes include:  

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Presbyopia

Your eyes start having trouble focusing on objects close up. Doctors call that presbyopia.

Symptoms of presbyopia include:

  • Trouble reading small print
  • Headaches
  • Eye strain

What causes presbyopia? Over time, the lens of the eye hardens. Muscles around the lens also change with age. These changes make it harder for the lens to work.

An eye doctor can diagnose presbyopia and correct it with contact lenses or eyeglasses. Bifocals are glasses with the higher focusing power in the lower part of the lens. If you do not need glasses for distance, you may need only reading glasses. 

Your doctor may suggest contact lenses, which can correct your vision the need for glasses. Even if you can see far off, contacts can help your close vision. Options include bifocal contacts or monovision, in which you wear one contact to see close up and one contact to see far away. 

Multifocal contact lenses allow you to see near, far, and everywhere in between.

Rarely, surgery is used to correct presbyopia.

Cataracts

Cataracts cloud vision. They are often associated with aging. Half of all Americans have cataracts by the time they reach 80. 

Symptoms of a cataract may include:

  • Blurry, cloudy, or dim vision
  • Double vision with one eye
  • Trouble seeing at night or in dim light
  • Halos around lights
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Faded or yellow colors, or trouble telling the difference between blues and greens (color perception)
  • Trouble seeing an object against a background of the same color

At earlier stages, simply changing your eyeglass or contact lens prescription is all you need. Using brighter lights for reading or a magnifying glass may also help. If halos or glare are a problem, limit night driving. Sunglasses and tinted lenses can improve driving comfort during the day. See your eye doctor for any concerns you have.

If a cataract begins to interfere with your day-to-day life, an ophthalmologist specializing in cataract surgery can remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear lens implant.

Floaters

Floaters are usually a harmless, natural part of aging. They are shadows of vitreous, which is the gel-like substance that makes the eye round, cast on the retina.

Floaters can appear as spots, threadlike strands, or squiggly lines that drift around, even when your eye stops moving. They are most obvious when you look at something bright, like a blue sky. They are more common in people who are very nearsighted or who have had cataract surgery.

If you suddenly notice many floaters, it may mean a part of the vitreous has pulled away from the retina all at once, sometimes with a tear in the retina. If you also have a loss of peripheral vision, along the sides of what you’re seeing, and light flashes, the retina may be lifting from its normal position. This is a retinal detachment. It can cause permanent vision loss, even blindness, if not treated. Seek immediate medical attention by seeing your eye doctor. If surgery is necessary, an ophthalmologist or a “retina specialist” may be called upon to treat the condition.

WebMD Medical Reference

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