As an optometrist at Hebrew SeniorLife, many of the eye problems that I treat in my patients are age-related. It is not uncommon for eyes to weaken as we age. One of those ways in which age can impact eyesight is through the onset of cataracts. Cataracts are one of the most commonly diagnosed eye disorders among older adults. In fact, by age 75—about 70 percent of people will have had cataracts.
What are cataracts?
A cataract occurs when the normally transparent lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, limiting vision. Cataracts tend to develop slowly, making it difficult to detect a change. In some cases, a cataract doesn’t impair vision or affect daily life enough to warrant surgical intervention.
Cataracts are not painful but can impact a senior’s day-to-day activities and limit independence. It’s important to seek out a consultation with an ophthalmologist to discuss surgical options if you notice problems with vision that begin to interfere with your daily activities.
Cataract symptoms can include:
- Cloudy, blurry, dimmed or yellowed vision
- Increased difficulty seeing at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Frequent changes in glasses or contact lens prescriptions
- Double vision
Age is a common risk factor for cataracts but it’s not the only one. Those who smoke, excessively tan, have diabetes, a history of steroid use or a previous eye injury or surgical procedure on the eye are all at greater risk for developing cataracts—particularly as you age. A family history also increases cataract risk.
The most important step you can take to keep your eyes healthy and prolong independence is to see an eye specialist annually. Your ophthalmologist will be able to diagnose cataracts during a routine eye exam—allowing you to monitor them closely and take necessary medical steps if your vision degrades.
Other ways to prevent cataracts are:
- Having regular medical check-ups with your primary care physician
- Avoiding tanning booths and wear a hat or sunglasses when out in the sun
- Quitting smoking
Receiving a cataract diagnosis does not necessarily mean you will need a surgical procedure right away. Changing your eyeglass prescription or using brighter light bulbs around the house can make surgical intervention unnecessary for months or even years.
If you are a candidate for surgery, a less-invasive surgical cataract procedure has made cataract surgery easy to undergo and recover from. The procedure, which takes about 10 minutes, often allows you to return to normal activities the very next day—with full healing of the eye in about a month.