Not only is our eyesight important to us but it means a lot to the ability of our senior loved ones to live independently.
In May we are all reminded by the American Optometric Association and the National Eye Institute to think about our eyes and whether we are doing all we can to care for them.
As we age, we are faced with age related deterioration in our eyes along with our bodies.
Our seniors have gone through these changes but that doesn’t mean that other problems won’t crop up to impair their vision further.
How long have your seniors had their current eyeglasses?
Have they had a dilated eye exam in the past year? Have you?
It is important that we care for the eyes of our seniors even more and help them get access to the most effective corrections when needed.
Diseases of the Eye
There are several conditions that affect our eyes and about which we should all be concerned. Having regular eye checkups can find these problems early and treat them for better vision.
- Refractive errors – including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. These issues can all be corrected with eyeglasses, contacts or even refractive surgery. This isn’t a one-time check, however, and as your eye health changes over time requires regular eye exams and updates to the corrective lenses.
- Eye teaming – sometimes our eyes fail to work together, causing headaches, double vision and eye strain due to misalignment. More advanced eye teaming problems are known as strabisimus, or crossed eyes. Vision therapy can help persons learn specific skills, including eye movement control, focusing control, eye coordination, and teamwork of our eyes. Your eye doctor can help you and your senior with vision therapy.
- Retinopathy – diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when blood vessels in the eyes are damaged, can be found under eye exam and when found and treated early can reduce the risk of permanent vision loss. This is the leading cause of blindness so get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year, especially if you have diabetes.
- Cataract – when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy (normally it is transparent). It causes decreased vision and may lead to blindness. Because cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in people over 55, we all need to get checked and have a lens transplant if needed.
- Glaucoma – when pressure in the eyes increase creating stress on the optic nerve. It usually has no symptom including no pain, so it is key to have regular eye exams. Eye drops can help reduce eye pressure but surgery may be needed to prevent vision loss.
- Macular Degeneration – occurs when central vision is impaired and can affect daily activities such as reading, driving and self-care. Smoking and a poor diet can increase your risk.
- Medical conditions – diseases such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol can be detected during your eye exams. By examining the condition of the blood vessels in your eyes, the doctor can see abnormalities that need more testing and treatment.
Nutrition and Our Eye Health
Because March is also National Nutrition Month, it’s a good time to remember the importance of good nutrition for our eye health.
A recent follow-up study to determine how nutrition might impact our eye health, known as the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS2), was released. It examined nutrients of interest to the eye, including lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and copper. The question was if daily intakes of these nutrients would reduce the risk of development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Unfortunately, it has been estimated that only 10% of us get the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin that we need each day. The AREDS2 study recommended 10 mg Lutein and 2 mg Zeaxanthin daily.
The best result was found in those whose diet was already low in these nutrients. When supplemented with specific nutrients, the rate of progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was decreased slightly.
When people with low dietary intake were given supplements with these nutrients, those getting cataract surgery was reduced. Those with good intakes of these nutrients in their diets showed no change in need for cataract surgery with supplementation.
What that means is if we are eating a healthy, well balanced diet, including sources of these nutrients, supplementation will not improve our eye health. If our diets are deficient, it could be helpful to seek out a supplement. Supplementation will not reverse damage already done but hopes to prevent progression of eye disease.
How do we know if we’re eating what we need?
Food Sources of Key Nutrients for Eye Health
Here are some food sources of these nutrients you can include in your senior’s daily diet.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids – eat foods that are yellow to red in color:
- Leafy greens – kale, spinach, turnip greens, swiss chard, collards
- Orange juice
- Spices – cayenne pepper, paprika, basil, parsley
- Egg yolk
- Red meat
- Sweet Potato
- Sunflower seeds
- Unsaturated oils like corn, safflower
Getting enough servings of these foods can be done if we remember to fill half our plates with vegetables. They are rich sources of all the nutrients we may be lacking.
Our seniors’ (and our own) eye health is something that can’t be retrieved once lost so it is important to take the steps necessary to preserve our vision.
Getting a dilated eye exam regularly and eating a variety of foods shouldn’t be too hard to do when seeing clearly is so important to our quality of life.