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Baby Boomers See Better Because of Contact Lens Advances


WebMD Health News

July 27, 2000 -- Just as they revolutionized the diaper industry, "baby boomers" are certainly making waves in the eyewear industry as growing numbers find that their vision is declining as they age.

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, and are between 36 and 54 years old. There are about 72 million boomers in the U.S. -- comprising 29% of the population. And because eyesight declines with age, the young-at-heart boomers are turning toward contact lenses and surgery and away from thick "Coke-bottle" glasses -- so that they can keep up their famously active lifestyles.

Between the ages of 45 and 50, everybody will experience a decline in eyesight known as presbyopia. This occurs as eyes gradually lose their ability to focus on objects in the near range, typically causing people to hold reading materials at arm's length. Wearing reading glasses or bifocal lenses were the only choices before, but now baby boomers have more choices than their parents ever did when it comes to vision correction, experts tell WebMD.

"Presbyopia happens to everybody. It's an aspect of aging that's going to hit," says Karla Zadnick, OD, PhD, an associate professor of optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus, Ohio, and the chairwoman of the American Academy of Optometry's (AAO) cornea and contact lens division.

"There are lots of options, especially for those who have to wear glasses or [contact] lenses for the first time," she tells WebMD. "If patients begin the dialogue with their eye doctor, he or she will help them to explore these options."

One such option may be bifocal contact lenses -- or lenses that have two focal points. These can help a person see both distant and near objects and come in either hard or soft varieties, she says.

"Ask your eye doctor if you are a good candidate for bifocal lenses and go from there," she suggests.

"There are quite a variety of bifocal lenses that are increasingly effective," says Peter Bergenske, OD, the immediate past chairman of the AAO's cornea and contact lens division and an optometrist in Middleton, Wisc.

Soft lenses may be more comfortable in the short term, Bergenske says, but in the long term the hard lenses are just as comfortable. "Soft bifocal lenses are available as disposables," he says. "This has some great advantages, including the ability to try different lenses and make the necessary adjustments to the vision correction."

Start-up costs for the two types are comparable, but hard lenses may be less expensive in the long term because they can last for years, Bergenske tells WebMD.

Another potential option may be monovision contact lenses, Zadnick says. "One eye wears a contact lens for away objects and the other eye wears a contact lens for near objects," she says. About 70% of users adapt to this new way of seeing things, according to Zadnick.

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