Typical vision impairments such as blurriness or trouble reading fine print are a common occurrence for adults middle-aged and older. These issues are often easily corrected with reading glasses, bifocals or even simple surgeries. However, when seniors suffer from vision loss that cannot be corrected, they are considered to be living with low vision. Low vision differs from normal age-related vision changes and is usually caused by diseases and health conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes, or injuries to the eyes.
Peggy O’Neill, Director of Sales and Marketing at Lions Gate, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees, New Jersey, sees the effects of low vision in residents at the community. “Anyone can be at risk of developing low vision after middle age,” says Peggy. “Basic rules for good visual health apply here: monitor your vision regularly, schedule routine eye exams and contact a doctor with any sudden changes or concerns. This is the best way to prevent serious problems and stop them before they get worse.”
Taking a Closer Look at Seniors’ Vision
Although most of the causes of low vision progress gradually, seniors should talk to their doctor if they experience any of these difficulties:
- Trouble recognizing familiar faces
- Difficulty doing things that require seeing up close (e.g., sewing, reading, cooking, fixing things around the house, matching colors)
- Trouble doing tasks because the light seems too dim
- Inability to read street signs or words on buildings
Early detection is vital to successful treatment of eye diseases. The sooner a problem is discovered, the better chances you have of undergoing treatment and stopping the progression of vision loss.
Macular Degeneration: Understanding the Basics
According to the National Institutes of Health, macular degeneration accounts for nearly 45 percent of all low vision cases. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes damage to the macula, a small spot at the center of the retina that allows us to see images clearly. Macular degeneration distorts the center of a person’s field of vision. Macular degeneration does not cause total blindness, but it does interfere with daily activities, such as driving, reading, writing or watching TV.
Though an exact cause of macular degeneration has yet to be found, experts at the National Eye Institute have distinguished major risk factors that lead to AMD. These include:
- Age – The disease is most common in people over 65.
- Race – Macular degeneration is most common in caucasians.
- Smoking – Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
- Family – There is a hereditary element of the disease, and several types of genes have been linked to macular degeneration.
Experts strongly discourage genetic testing for AMD, since no genetic tests currently exist that can diagnose or predict who may get the disease.
Preventing Age-Related Macular Degeneration
According to the National Eye Institute, healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration or slow its progression. The greatest preventative measure seniors can take is having routine eye exams once a year, where a doctor dilates the pupils to look at the retina. Other ways to reduce the risk of AMD include:
- Not smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining low blood pressure
- Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, found in green, leafy vegetables and fish
Treatment Options for Macular Degeneration
Currently, there is no cure for low vision due to macular degeneration, but if AMD is detected early enough, there are ways to slow the progression of the disease and keep your remaining vision. For those that show signs of early macular degeneration, a doctor can suggest adopting healthy lifestyle changes to keep their condition from advancing. Early AMD usually shows no symptoms or vision loss, but doctors can detect it by finding deposits in the retina.
For those with intermediate macular degeneration, doctors may advise taking specific vitamins referred to as AREDS. Discovered through the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Studies, taking certain nutritional supplements at specific doses can slow the progression of macular degeneration and reduce the risk of advanced AMD. Some companies sell AREDS over-the-counter, but experts warn consumers to read the labels, as some pills may contain different ingredients or different doses than the studies advise. Talk to a doctor before purchasing AREDS or other supplements.
If macular degeneration has progressed to the advanced stage of severe vision loss, certain therapies may be able to stop further loss of vision. However, these treatments can be costly and intensive. Drug injections into the eyes, photodynamic therapy and laser surgery are a few options available.
Living with Low Vision
Although most causes of low vision cannot be corrected, many seniors can still enjoy their standard quality of life and continue their favorite activities by utilizing vision rehabilitation and low vision devices. Even if your doctor tells you that nothing can be done for your low vision, ask about vision rehabilitation services that can assist you in using magnifying devices, modifying your home and learning how to continue living safely and independently.
The most important thing seniors living with low vision can do is stay positive. When seniors are hopeful in finding ways to manage their low vision, they are more likely to take action to keep their remaining vision as long as possible.
A Clear View of Healthy Senior Living
“At Lions Gate, we strive to be an excellent resource on issues seniors and their families face throughout the aging process,” says Peggy. “We are committed to helping seniors lead active, healthy lifestyles, no matter what challenges they face along the way.
“Whether you need information on age-related health concerns, such as low vision, or connections to quality services and expertise, we can help you find solutions through our community events and extensive network of professional resources. Don’t wait to find the help you need to enjoy the best senior lifestyle possible!”
Inspiring Wellness Every Day at Lions Gate.
Lions Gate, located in Voorhees, NJ, offers a continuum of lifestyle and care options rooted in Jewish traditions and values. Whether you are in need of Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing or Rehabilitation Services, Lions Gate has you covered.
Our mission at Lions Gate is to enrich the lives of those we serve through quality and compassionate care consistent with our heritage and values. We strive to provide programs and services that inspire well-being, as well as social, cultural and spiritual independence.
As a full-service community rich in wellness programs, meaningful experiences and educational opportunities from Lions Gate University, Lions Gate allows residents to connect with those who share their interests and cherished traditions. Our goal is to provide residents with an active, worry-free lifestyle filled with ways to connect with others, pursue their passions and be engaged in everyday life. While we focus on Jewish customs and traditions, we welcome people of all faiths to the Lions Gate family.
Through our affiliation with Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service, we also offer three senior living communities for those with limited incomes.