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As we grow older, we try to retain our physical strength, our looks, and of course, our vision. But a growing trend suggests that Americans are not taking care of their vision as they reach an older age. One in six people age 65 and older have a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, the number of Americans with significant age-related vision loss is expected to double by 2030. Multiple studies have shown that the majority of seniors who suffer from legal blindness also suffer from common age-related eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
To raise awareness of age-related eye diseases, the American Academy of Ophthalmology designated September as Healthy Aging Month to encourage seniors to see an ophthalmologist and be aware of signs and symptoms of vision loss. Here’s the good news: there are some steps you can take to maintain optimal eye health!
- Exercise. Keeping a regular workout routine can benefit your eyes, along with countless benefits to your body. According to a 2006 University of Wisconsin study, adults middle-aged and older can experience up to a 70% reduction in risk for developing age-related macular degeneration if they exercise no less than three times a week. Moderate, low-intensity workouts like jogging or walking can help decrease risks of cataracts, macular degeneration, eye pressure, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Don’t Smoke. Smoking has been linked to increased risk for age-related cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as reducing the blood flow to the eyes. Smoking has also been shown to affect a person’s aging process by making that person appear older and more vulnerable to diseases.
- Avoid Over-Exerting Your Eyes. We rely more and more on computers—at the workplace, on our cell phones, and for entertainment—which makes it increasingly difficult to take our eyes off the screen! Focusing too long on a computer screen can lead to overexertion of the eyes, which leads to eye strain.
- Wear Sunglasses. Sunglasses are very important for protecting your eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When you’re buying sunglasses, look for labels that say 100% UV protection. Wear sunglasses whenever you are out in the sun—even in wintertime to prevent your eyes from unnecessary damage.
- Blood Pressure/Diabetes. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most common medical problems among older people. When you have diabetes, your small blood vessels develop micro-aneurysms and leak blood, while abnormal growth of new vessels occurs. These leaks can cause irreversible damage to the retina and result in permanent vision loss. Fluctuating blood pressure will also lead to fluctuating vision. If high blood pressure or poorly managed diabetes are left untreated, they can cause irreversible harm to your eyes.
If you follow these steps, you may be able to slow down the aging process and possibly avoid unnecessary eye diseases. But the most important step is to schedule regular eye exams! The American Academy of Ophthalmologists recommends all healthy adults should get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40, before age-related changes begin to happen.