Common causes of vision change in the elderly
This condition is a normal part of ageing, where the lens of the eye gradually loses the ability to change shape, making it difficult to focus on close objects or print. The problem can usually be managed with reading glasses or multifocal contact lenses.
Fewer tears are produced by the body as people, particularly women, grow older. If your loved one experiences discomfort or a stinging sensation due to dry eyes, eyedrops are an easy solution, apply as required throughout the day.
Cataracts are prevalent in older people and around fifty per cent of those aged over 75 can be affected. Cataracts are opaque or cloudy areas in the lens of the eye that can cause vision to be blurry and make it more challenging to see in low light conditions. Cataracts often develop in both eyes, although one may be affected more than the other. Surgery is an option to restore normal vision.
Other age-related vision problems
One of the major cause of vision loss in older people commonly referred to as AMD or age-related macular degeneration. The disease affects the centre of the retina at the back of the eye, the macula, and causes loss of central vision. The condition makes it difficult to read, drive, watch television and even recognise faces.
In macular degeneration, while peripheral vision is unaffected, the loss of central vision can be debilitating for your loved one, and they are likely to need home care to help with everyday tasks that have become difficult.
In the UK, over 600,000 people are affected by age-related macular degeneration, and this number is expected to increase significantly as the population ages. Some of the risk factors for age-related macular degeneration include high blood pressure and a family history of the disease.
Colin and Dulcie’s story
Dulcie is 102-years-old and lives with her son Colin, his wife Mary, and her Carer Sarah. She has dementia and has had full-time live-in care for over two years.
We talk to the family about the challenges of finding the right care solution for
a fiercely independent woman – and how the positive benefits of live-in care with Sarah has transformed all of their lives.
In glaucoma, an older person will lose peripheral or side vision due to damage to the optic nerve. Often, both eyes are affected one after the other. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in complete blindness as central vision can also be affected as the disease progresses. Your loved one may need 24-hour care if their vision loss is quite serious.
Treatment for glaucoma includes topical medications to reduce intraocular pressure. These will need to be administered by your loved one’s live-in carer, particularly if they also need dementia care and are unable to manage their own medications.
Those with a family history of the disease have an increased risk of developing glaucoma. It can be challenging to identify in the early stages as there is usually no pain and no evident symptoms until side vision is significantly reduced.
Another condition that may result in vision loss is diabetic retinopathy. This condition does not exclusively occur in older people, but the prevalence increases for those with diabetes. In the UK, all known Type 1 diabetics who have had the disease for over 20 years have diabetic retinopathy to some extent, as do more than two-thirds of Type 2 diabetics.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is progressive damage to the small blood vessels leading to the retina. The damaged vessels leak, causing swelling of the retinal tissue and clouding of the vision. In very severe cases, there can be complete vision loss. Both eyes are usually affected, and it is essential to maintain a steady level of blood glucose to reduce the impact of the condition.
Your loved one may require help with medication and eating an appropriate diet to keep their glucose levels stable. A live-in carer can help with this, and the carer can also ensure annual eye examinations take place, or more frequently if necessary. Some laser treatments are available that may reduce the risk of severe loss of vision.
Vision loss in the elderly can be a major issue and around one out of three people experiences some reduced vision by the age of 65. Your loved one’s eyes must undergo a regular examination. If a serious condition is present, prompt steps can be taken to manage or treat it to reduce the risk of complete vision loss.
Learn more about complex care
Take a look at more Elder guides on how to support those living with complex conditions below.
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