Why Aging Causes Eye Problems and Diseases in the Elderly

Glaucoma and cataracts are common eye conditions affecting seniors

Full-Frame Close-Up of a Senior Woman's Eye
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Eye problems and disorders are common in the elderly population. Laser surgeries and other treatments exist to correct and even reverse some of these aging-related conditions. The key is to detect them early. Regular eye exams will help detect vision problems before they become serious. Here is a list of common age-related eye problems that can affect people at various stages in life but often affect the elderly.

Cataracts

Your eye has a lens that helps it to focus. The lens is made of protein. When protein molecules clump, a cloudy spot (called a cataract) forms. This is common in older people. Because cataracts grow slowly, your eye doctor may simply monitor a cataract until it interferes with your vision. Cataract surgery is a very common procedure to remove the cataract from your eye. Talk to your doctor about alternatives if you're not ready to have surgery.

Dry Eye

Your eyelids have lacrimal glands that produce tears, and they drain into your tear ducts in your lower eyelids. If your lacrimal glands stop working well, your eyes will become dry and uncomfortable. Eye drops can help, but have your eyes checked. There may be a simple procedure to partially plug your tear ducts (to keep tears from draining too fast).

Glaucoma 

The eye is filled with fluid. If too much pressure develops in the eye, it is called glaucoma.

Over time, this build-up of pressure can damage the optic nerve and cause blindness. Luckily, this pressure develops slowly and routine eye exams can detect glaucoma before it becomes dangerous.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) 

This is a very long term for loss of central vision. The macula is a part of the retina that processes central vision.

Sometimes with aging, the macula deteriorates. This causes problems with driving, reading and many common tasks. Treatment can include laser surgery on the macula.

Diabetic Retinopathy 

Because of problems with diabetes, the tiny blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the retina become less effective, which leads to vision problems. Treatment includes laser surgery and a surgical process known as a vitrectomy. All diabetics should have annual eye exams.

Retinal Detachment 

The layers of the retina can detach from the underlying support tissue. If untreated, retinal detachment can cause loss of vision or blindness. Symptoms include an increase in the type and number of "floaters" in your eyes, seeing bright flashes, feeling as if a curtain has been pulled over the field of vision, or seeing straight lines that appear curvy. Surgery and laser treatment can often reattach the layers of the retina.

Sources:

National Institute of Aging. Aging and Your Eyes. Bound for Your Good Health. Pages 69-72.

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