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Aging and Vision: Common Senior Eye Diseases


Around age 40, a person's vision starts to change. Trouble seeing up close can require the use of special glasses or multi-focal contacts. Other common changes a person might notice as they age is a diminished ability to see colors or adjust to glare. These are normal occurrences that do not stop a person from living an active life.

Common Eye Diseases

For some people, these easily-remedied conditions might be the only vision issues they experience, even as they continue to age. Getting older does not automatically equal poor vision or eye trouble. However, a large number of people do experience age-related eye disease. Here are the most common:

  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The most recent census data (compiled from the 2010 census) shows that nearly 40 million Americans over the age of 40 experience one of these four eye diseases, with cataracts being by far the most prevalent (24.5 million people).

A regular eye exam will help your ophthalmologist track the health of your eyes over time. With consistent check-ups, he or she can see if there are gradual changes happening to your eye health. Even with regular eye exams, getting your eyes dilated is the best way for your ophthalmologist to detect eye diseases in the early stages.

Symptoms of Eye Diseases


A cataract is a clouding of the lens that affects a person's vision. This disease is closely tied to aging and is very common in older people. By the age of 80, more than half of Americans will have had a cataract or cataract surgery.

Symptoms of a cataract are cloudy or blurry vision. Colors will appear faded and night vision is extremely poor. If you wear contacts or glasses, you might have a cataract if you are changing your prescription frequently in an effort to improve your sight. You may also see a halo around lights or see a glare around lights or the sun.

Diabetic Retinopathy:

Unfortunately, there are no symptoms or warning signs to indicate eye disease related to diabetes. There is no pain and a person's vision may not change until severe damage is done. Controlling your diabetes through lifestyle choices and having regular eye exams are the best way to mitigate potentially developing this disease.

There are multiple eye diseases that can occur because of diabetes, with diabetic retinopathy being the most common. This disease is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina.


Glaucoma is a term that encompasses a group of diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve. It can result in severe vision loss and event blindness. The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers and connects the retina to the brain.

A person with glaucoma will have severe pain in their eye(s). Vomiting and nausea, blurred vision and halos around lights are other common symptoms.

African Americans have a higher risk of glaucoma, so this population is advised to start yearly dilations at age 40. Persons with diabetes are also encouraged to have this done annually before the age of 60.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration AMD):

This eye disease can progress very slowly, so much so a person may not realize they have AMD. They may think it is just normal vision loss. People who smoke or have a family history of AMD have a greater risk of having it themselves. Caucasians are also more high risk than other races for AMD.

Symptoms of AMD will present in vision that is blurry or fuzzy. Lines on a page may look like waves rather than straight, or otherwise distorted. Certain parts of a page may appear blurry and you might have more trouble reading in low light. Extra sensitivity to glare can also indicate AMD.

Comprehensive Dilated Eye Exams

After the age of 60, a comprehensive dilated eye exam is recommended every year.

When your eye is dilated, the doctor can see the inside of the eye because the drops used widen the pupil. This allows more light to enter the eye. The ophthalmologist will use a special magnifying lens that allows him or her to see the tissues at the back of your eye. They can also look at the macula, optic nerve and the retina to gauge the health of these important parts of your eye.

Poor vision or eye disease is not a natural part of aging, but it is quite common, so don't skip your regular eye exam. Don't let your loved ones miss their yearly exams, either. Tell your ophthalmologist about any changes in vision you are experiencing and any pain. While some eye diseases cannot be cured, there are ways to treat them to allow you or your loved one to live an active, fulfilling lifestyle.

Heritage Health: Therapy & Senior Care

Some Heritage Health locations have eye exam services available to its residents. If you are not sure if your loved one has had an eye exam in the last year, talk to the nursing staff and find out. Scheduling those appointments is an important part of their overall health and well being.

Learn more about our locations and services by visiting our website today.

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