The NHS recommends that most people have their eyes tested every two years. However, you may need more regular eye exams if you have diabetes, are aged 40 and over with a family history of glaucoma, or you’re aged 70 and older. If you don’t fall into any of these categories and want your eyes tested before your routine test is due, speak to your ophthalmic practitioner or optometrist.
Do I have to pay for eye tests?
Many people are entitled to a free NHS sight test or an optical voucher to reduce the prices of subsequent contact lenses or glasses.
You’re entitled to the free NHS eye tests if you’re 60 or over, have underlying conditions such as diabetes or glaucoma, are registered partially sighted or blind, are 40 plus, and have relatives with or are at risk of glaucoma. You’re also entitled to the free NHS tests if you have a full valid HC2 NHS certificate.
You’ll have to cover the costs yourself or privately if you’re not entitled to the free NHS sight test.
How does ageing impact the eyes?
Our eyes and sight change in many ways when we age, and regular eye tests are needed to assess the health condition of our eyes. As we age, the eyelids can droop and appear sunken as the tarsal plate, which is the eyelid’s structural support, begins to lose strength. When the support is lost, the eyes become more sensitive, and can lead to conditions such as including dry eye syndrome, which causes excessive tearing to compensate for the dryness.
Reduction in vision is also a common symptom of eyes ageing. Poor vision as you age is due to the lens changing and muscles in the eyes weakening; this will often mean a diagnosis of short or long-sightedness, which is why many people over 60 have to wear a pair of glasses.
Cataracts and glaucoma are eye medical conditions more common in old age because they’re caused by a build-up of adverse environmental impacts, along with internal and genetic reasons. There are also common eye conditions caused by the ageing of the retina and macula(age-related macular degeneration), which are responsible for how well we see images. These conditions include macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy(when the person has diabetes).
Symptoms of eye problems as you age
Many age-related conditions can be so subtle as they develop over time that even the person with them may not notice for a long time. However, there are many symptoms that you may notice, which could be caused by an age-related sight condition;
- Unable to recognise familiar people from a distance.
- Brighter lighting is needed for visual activity.
- Peripheral vision (wide) vision is reduced.
- Watery or cloudy eyes
- Bright spots, floaters or halos in the central vision.
- Increased blurred vision when reading written/printed word.
- Sore, dry eyes along with a headache.
In most cases, the sooner an age-related eye condition is found, the easier it can be treated; therefore, if you experience any of these symptoms, they may be a warning sign, and you should book an eye test.
Specialist eye tests for people living with dementia
Visiting unfamiliar places such as eye clinics, and then speaking with an optometrist and understanding instructions can take extra energy and concentration for someone living with dementia. This means eye exams can take longer and become stressful for the individual.
However, people with dementia should still get their eyes tested, as a reduction in vision can cause more confusion and isolation.
Eye tests for people living with dementia can be tailored to suit the individual. For example, the optometrist clearly explains each step of the process, only asking questions that require a yes or no answers to reduce confusion.
To check the field of vision and visual acuity, opticians will use kay card pictures or single letter charts, which avoids stress and confusion from reading large text scripts.
Only small, non-invasive devices are used to check eye health, and they are usually done within a few minutes.
How can a home eye exam benefit someone living with dementia?
Home eye tests are a possible option for people living with dementia, especially if they cannot visit the opticians unaccompanied or those who are bed bound or have other mobility issues.
A home test still involves a complete eye exam, but means the person is more comfortable in a familiar environment and can have someone they know there to reduce stress.
Several NHS registered on-call eye care professionals can visit homes for comprehensive eye examinations, such as On Call Opticians who operate in the midlands, plus large chain opticians such as Specsavers.