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Eye Conditions in the Elderly

Common Ailments

Vision problems are some of the most common ailments we experience as we age.  Some of these problems can come on so gradually that they can be difficult for providers to notice until the condition is well advanced and needs agressive treatment.  This means that caregivers must be very vigilant about how their senior’s eyesight is changing.  Some of the most common eye ailments include glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts.

Macular Degeneration

  1. The facts:
    1. Leading cause of vision loss.
    2. Affects more than 10 million Americans
    3. Smoker with hypertension and/or high cholesterol are particularly at risk
  2. Detection:
    1. Regular vision exams are important to early detection
    2. Requires dilation of the eyes
  3. Treatment:
    1. Incurable at this time
    2. Treatment centers on slowing progression of disease
  4. Vision Loss
    1. Contributes to vision loss, but doesn’t cause complete blindness
    2. Genetic component to the disease
  5. Prevention
    1. Food based prevention for those at risk
    2. Eat food high in lutein and zeaxanthin
      1. Egg yolks, yellow corn, orange and yellow peppers, kale, broccoli, spinach, kiwi, grapes, peas, green beans, apples, mango, scallions, orange juice, and various squashes
    3. Don’t smoke (, Bright Focus)


  1.  The facts:
    1. Group of eye conditions which damage the optic nerves
    2. Affects more than 3 million Americans, some of which may not know they have it
    3. Damage is caused by abnormally high pressure within the eye
    4. Can be symptom-less in early stages
  2. Types:
    1. There are multiple types of glaucoma
    2. Open Angle
      1. Progresses more slowly
      2. Few initial symptoms
      3. Affects 70-90% of individuals
    3. Angle Closure
      1. Largely an inherited condition
      2. Fast onset
      3. Very painful
      4. Considered a medical emergency and must be treated rapidly to prevent blindness, which can set in over 1-2 days
  3. Factors:
    1. Family history, increasing age, nearsightedness, hypertension, and diabetes (American Family Physician, Bright Focus, Mayo Clinic)


  1.  The Facts:
    1. Most common cause of blindness worldwide
    2. Easiest to see as it causes a cloud on the pupil that is visible to others
  2. Symptoms:
    1. Hazy vision, can be worse in bright light
    2. Weaker night vision
    3. Uncomfortable glare from vehicle headlights or bright sunlight
    4. Need for brighter light for reading
    5. Colors look faded or yellow
  3. Prevalence:
    1. Found in approximately 50% of adults over 75 years of age
      1. This is compared to less than 5% in people under age of 65
    2. Cataract surgery is the most common type of Medicare covered surgery (American Family Physician, WebMD)

Caregiver moments:  It is important that you always consult a senior’s physician prior to making changes to a senior’s diet and/or nutritional supplements.  Be watchful for signs that a senior might have vision issues and consult a doctor early.

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