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Keep an eye on potential vision issues in seniors

Cher Haack

Eyesight plays a big role in our elders’ day-to-day lives. If it is getting difficult for Mom or Dad to do things around the house, such as paying bills and cooking meals, poor eyesight could be to blame. Has driving become more difficult for them? Are they bumping into things in their home?

If these things are happening, it’s time to visit an eye doctor. He or she might suggest a new prescription for glasses. Maybe Mom or Dad has cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye. They are the most common cause of blindness and are conventionally treated with surgery. Vision loss occurs because the cloudiness prevents light from passing through the lens. Cataracts most commonly are due to aging, but there is a variety of other causes.

From my own experience with cataracts at 36 years old, I will say that if you allow them to go undiagnosed, it will get to a point where you are unable to function normally. More signs your parents might have cataracts: they might cover one eye to see clearly, they have a hard time eating because they might not be able to see their plate, and judgment of getting their fork to their mouth may be impaired. Driving can be dangerous. But cataracts can be treated. Surgery is usually an easy process, and the results are immediate.

Macular degeneration usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of retina damage. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in adults 50 and older. Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities. Treatments include medication injections into the eye and two-step laser-therapy treatment. For some, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper can decrease the risk of vision loss.

Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged in a characteristic pattern. This can permanently damage vision in the affected eye(s) and lead to blindness. It is normally associated with increased fluid pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is usually treated with daily eye drops. If eye drops are ineffective, your doctor might discuss other options, such as laser surgery or implants that are surgically placed in the eye to relieve the pressure.

Often, there are no signs of glaucoma. I was diagnosed during treatment for my cataract. I had frequent headaches, but there are several reasons one might have headaches. However, headaches may be caused by the amount of pressure you may have from glaucoma.

Look out for eye problems. Mom or Dad might not want to admit they are having a hard time seeing. I know I didn’t want to before I was diagnosed. They might think they are just clumsy, like I did. Whatever their reasoning might be, it doesn’t hurt to see what their eye doctor says. Diagnosing eye issues early can save eyesight. Unfortunately, some eye problems are irreversible.

Cher Haack is the executive director of The Lodge Assisted Living Facility in Carson City.