Aging Well: Seniors need regular eye exams
KUNIA, Hawaii - A lot of eye diseases can affect our vision as we age, yet many older adults don't get a yearly check up.
Seventy-nine-year-old Linda China goes to Hawaiian Eye Center every year for an eye exam. "I want to see my grandchildren and want to be in their wedding party!" she explains.
She says her eyes are healthy, but she did have cataract surgery two years ago. Many seniors get cataracts. Hawaiian Eye Center Medical Director Dr. Steven Rhee, D.O., says, "A lot of patients are surprised when I tell them, 'Hey, you've got cataracts developing. It's a shock, but a totally natural thing that happens."
He says common conditions that affect older eyes are cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve. "The optic nerve can get damaged over time, and people don't notice because it affects side vision. Slowly, that side vision gets lost until you're left with tunnel vision - and potentially blindness - if not treated," says Dr. Rhee, who adds women are more likely than men to have glaucoma, be visually impaired or blind due to glaucoma, and have cataracts.
Systemic health problems like diabetes, which experts say affects about 12% of Hawaii's population, can also affect vision. "If the sugars aren't controlled well, the vessels get leaky, and we can see bleeding in the eye," he describes.
One warning sign of both high blood pressure and diabetes is when the ability to see clearly changes frequently. Be sure to keep your ophthalmologist informed about your health conditions and use of medications and nutritional supplements, as well as your exercise, eating, sleeping and other lifestyle choices.
That's why The American Academy of Ophthalmology urges seniors to get regular eye exams. "Your vision could be 20/20, but you could still have diabetic retinopathy in the eyes. Like glaucoma, you may not realize you have this going on and it's not until you get your eyes checked that we can know," he cautions.
They also say get moving. Our eyes need good blood circulation and oxygen intake, and both are stimulated by regular exercise. "There are blood vessels all over, including in the eye. When you exercise, you get the blood flowing properly," says Dr. Rhee. Regular exercise also helps keep our weight in the normal range, he continues, which reduces the risk of diabetes and of diabetic retinopathy. Remember to use sun safety and protective eyewear when enjoying sports and recreation.
Sleep can also improve eye health. Dr. Rhee says, as we sleep, our eyes enjoy continuous lubrication, allowing the eyes to clear out irritants such as dust, allergens, or smoke that may have accumulated during the day. Some research suggests that light-sensitive cells in the eye are important to our ability to regulate our wake-sleep cycles. This becomes more crucial as we age, when more people have problems with insomnia. While it's important that we protect our eyes from over-exposure to UV light, our eyes also need exposure to some natural light every day to help maintain normal sleep-wake cycles.
Advice that keeps your whole body- including your eyes - Aging Well.