Spotting signs of vision loss.
As we get older, you may notice your father holding his newspaper closer than he used to, or your mother taking longer to adjust to changes in lighting. Although our parents will inevitably need stronger eyeglass prescriptions as they grow older, it is important to recognize that vision loss from eye disease is not a “natural” part of aging. Although age is a risk factor for many conditions, eye disease can—and should—be prevented and treated at any age.
The number of seniors with vision loss is expected to double in the next 25 years. But the truth is that in most of these cases, vision loss could have been prevented and treated if caught early.
Older adults may not be as forthcoming about problems with their vision because they are more preoccupied with other health problems. In some cases they may hide their vision loss because they may not want to accept it. According to Dawn Pickering, coordinator and lead instructor in the National Low Vision Specialist Training Program at CNIB, it is important to recognize the tell-tale signs.
Some of the signs Pickering advises to watch for in aging relatives:
• An increased sensitivity to light and glare (such as difficulty reading glossy magazines or an increased need to use sunglasses).
• Difficulty distinguishing colours (mismatched clothes, socks, etc.).
• More clumsiness than usual (bumping into objects and people, missing steps and falling more often, having difficulty finding food on a plate or threading a needle).
• Difficulty distinguishing objects from each other.
• Having reduced night vision.
• Straight lines that appear wavy, such as the sides of a building.
• Trouble reading small print, such as on a medication bottle or in the phone book.
• Difficulty recognizing faces or seeing the TV as well as they used to.
In addition to physical signs, Pickering also suggests looking out for intuitive or “hidden” signs of vision loss. Often, seniors will withdraw from social circles for fear of embarrassment. They may also stop doing things they enjoy that require fine vision skills, such as sewing, reading and playing board games.
Medical conditions cause age-related vision loss
There are several eye conditions that can affect your parent’s vision. The most common that affect older people are:
• AMD (age-related macular degeneration)
• Diabetic retinopathy
Encourage your parents to visit an eye doctor regularly – for some seniors, age-related vision loss can be corrected with glasses, medication or surgery if caught early enough. For more information about age-related eye conditions and a full list of symptoms and risk factors, be sure to check out CNIB’s vision health guide for people over 50 and their family members.