By age 75, about 70% of seniors have cataracts, one of the most commonly diagnosed eye disorders in older adults. June is National Cataract Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to remind older adults to get their eyes checked, especially if they have vision problems that interfere with daily activities.
Think of cataracts as the late stage of a continuum of age-related eye changes. As we get older, the part of the eye called the crystalline lens starts to harden, making it more difficult to focus. Cataracts take that process a step further — the normally transparent lens gets cloudy or opaque over time, causing vision problems.
Cataracts tend to develop slowly. Common 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
Cataracts aren't painful, but they can negatively affect a senior's independence and quality of life. They can also pose problems beyond vision difficulties: Research shows that seniors suffering from poor vision can experience premature mental decline. Falls are another serious risk of vision problems in seniors, who are more prone to fractures and related complications than younger individuals.
Surgery is the only treatment for cataracts (although in some people, cataracts don’t affect vision seriously enough for surgery). In fact, cataract surgery is the most common and safest procedure performed in the world.
Cataract surgery involves removing the lens of the eye and, in most cases, implanting an artificial lens in its place. There have been exciting advances in artificial lenses — for example, multifocal lenses usually significantly lessen the need for reading glasses after surgery.
Although cataract surgery is so common, many people try to postpone it. That's not a good idea, because as the lens of the eye gets harder, it makes surgery more difficult and complications more likely.
The best thing seniors can do to keep their eyes healthy and prolong their independence is to see an eye doctor annually. An optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnose cataracts during a routine eye exam —if cataracts are found, the doctor can monitor the condition closely and prescribe necessary medical steps if the patient's vision worsens.
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