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Tips and talk about aging eyes

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People take the five senses for granted, but they can change with age. Vision is one of the most noticeable senses that can deteriorate with age. Do you notice some residents squinting more? Do their eyes water or are they uncomfortably dry? While eye problems can occur at any age, there are some vision issues that are more common in seniors.  Observe your residents. Is someone having trouble completing an activity?  Wiping or rubbing his or her eyes?  These are signs that it is time for an eye exam. Remember that vision issues don’t just affect the elderly.  Staff need healthy eyes, too.

Probably the most shocking—and depressing—realization of aging is a person’s first pair of bifocals. I got that pronouncement on my 40th birthday. The ability to read print close up or see close objects (Try threading a needle!) has a name—presbyopia. This is a correctable condition and improves one’s quality of life.

Floaters, the tiny specks that cross the field of vision are often normal, but if accompanied by a flash of light can signal a more serious condition such as retinal detachment. A noticeable change in the number or type of floaters warrants a visit to the eye doctor.

At opposite ends of the vision spectrum are dry eye and tearing. Dry eyes itch, burn and are red. A humidifier or eye drops that simulate tears are simple remedies. More serious cases of dry eye can be addressed with prescription eye drops and, at times, surgery.

Tearing is the result of sensitivity to light, wind or temperature fluctuations. In some cases, watery eyes can be attributed to infection or a blocked tear duct.

Cataracts, the cloudy areas that cover part of the eye, form over time. There is no redness or pain or tearing. An eye professional will check the status and offer recommendations.

Other conditions that can present in the eye, according to a WebMD article, include glaucoma, corneal diseases, conjunctivitis and more.

Low Vision

Another concern for the elderly, whether they are residents, staff members or family, is low vision. This impairment is evidenced of a disability to see to a degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as eyeglasses or medication.

The International Academy of Low Vision Specialists (IALVS) urges anyone experiencing a loss of vision to contact a member of the IALVS for a low vision evaluation. “A low vision evaluation is completely different from a regular eye exam. It’s a specialized evaluation that looks at how much vision the person has, how much they need to carry out their daily tasks, and what type/level of magnification device is required for those task to be carried out,” IALVS founder Dr. Richard Shuldiner said in a release.

A low vision exam differs from a regular exam, according to Shuldiner. Special charts are used to draw out residual vision that might be “hiding.” Once that is determined, adjustments can be made to eyewear to open up that vision. If that can’t be done, a low vision eye doctor can develop a customized set of telescopic eyeglasses.


Sandra Hoban

Managing Editor

Sandra Hoban


Sandra Hoban has been on Long-Term Living’s editorial staff for 17 years. She is one of...