Cataracts and Aging

Normal Vision (NEI)

Aging and Eyes

As we age, so do our eyes and we are vulnerable to several eye conditions that if not treated can lead to vision loss. We already wrote about glaucoma in our blog post from January 9, 2019, diabetic retinopathy in our blog from November 9, 2018 and age related macular degeneration (AMD) in our blog post from October 26, 2018. Another eye condition related to aging is cataract which can attack one or both eyes and spread from one eye to the other. In fact, the older we get the greater is the risk for developing cataracts. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), by age 80 more than half of all Americans have cataracts or have had surgery for cataracts. Cataracts that occur before age 60 are usually small and go unnoticed but from age 60 and older cataracts can begin to cause vision problems.

Other Risks for Developing Cataracts

Vision with Cataract (NEI)

Besides aging there are other conditions that raise the risk for cataracts such as:

  • Chronic diseases like diabetes
  • Lifestyle behavior like smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Environmental like too much exposure to ultraviolet sunlight
  • Use of certain drugs like steroids
  • Trauma and injuries to the eye can cause a cataract to develop even several years after the injury.
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Following surgery for other eye problems like glaucoma

Cataracts

The lens is the part of the eye that helps focus light or an image on the retina at the back of the eye. Just like a camera, if the lens is damaged and the image becomes blurred, so does the human lens see things as blurred from a cataract on the lens.
The lens in the eye is composed of protein and water. A cataract occurs when some of the protein in the lens begins to clump together and causes clouding over the lens of the eye. It starts small and may go unnoticed until the clump gets larger and begins to interfere with vision.

Symptoms of Cataracts

The following symptoms are not only common for cataracts, but may also be from other serious eye problems and you must see an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) right away. Many serious eye problems can be prevented from getting worse with proper treatment, so do not put off getting a proper eye exam. In fact it is recommended that seniors over age 60 have an eye exam every one or two years. However, people with diabetes or a history of eye problems in the family must have their eyes examined at least once a year, but the doctor may recommend an eye exam every six months in some cases.

  • Blurred or cloudy vision
  • Faded colors
  • Lights including sunlight are too bright and give off too much glare like headlights, which can be so bright that they are almost blinding and this can make driving at night very difficult for people with cataracts.
  • Night vision is poor
  • Eyeglasses or contact lenses need frequent prescription changes.
  • Seeing images in double or more in the eye affected by the cataract

Comprehensive Eye Exam

A comprehensive eye exam can detect cataracts and other serious vision problems. The exam includes the following:

Visual Acuity Test

You will be asked to read letters or numbers of different sizes on a wall chart.

Dilated Eye Exam

The doctor will put drops in both eyes to dilate the pupils so that he can see the retina and the optic nerve and check for changes or damage.

Tonometry

The doctor will use a special instrument to measure pressure in the eyes.

Treatment for Cataracts

Surgery is only called for when the cataracts interfere with driving, reading or watching TV and ONLY if changing eye glasses, using magnifying glasses, installing brighter lighting, wearing anti-glare sunglasses or special night glasses do not help. Surgery is not a first, but last resort and delaying surgery will not affect the outcome. Surgery is usually successful, but still is not without a risk, so it should not be rushed into.

Steps to Take to Prevent Formation or Increase in Size of Cataracts

These steps may help to prevent getting cataracts or stop them from increasing in size:

  • Wear sunglasses that protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation. The best ones are those that wrap around the eyes to protect them also from sun coming in from the sides.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to help protect the eyes from the sun.
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat lots of leafy green and colorful vegetables and fresh fruit that will give you lots of vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Surgery for Cataracts

Surgery involves removing the damaged clouded lens from the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens. If surgery is needed on both eyes there is usually a month to wait between the two operations. Surgery for cataracts is usually successful in 90% of the people who have the operation and they have better vision following the surgery.

Risks and Complications from Surgery

  • Infections and sometimes they can be serious enough to lead to vision loss
  • An after cataract can form which also causes clouding around the artificial lens and this can take place even months or years after surgery
  • Bleeding
  • In some cases the surgery increases the chance for getting a detached retina, especially in people who are very near-sighted. A detached retina causes no pain but is a medical emergency and may need to be treated in an emergency room or a hospital. Signs of a detached retina may be a sudden increase in seeing flashes or floaters in front of the eye.

Cataracts and Alzheimer’s Disease

Doctors and caregivers are divided on whether or not cataract surgery should be performed on people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Those that are in favor believe that seeing more clearly is beneficial, especially to avoid falls, which are so common in people with dementia. Also, seeing clearly may help demented people to recognize their loved ones.

Those that are against cataract surgery for demented people believe that people with dementia are poor candidates for surgery and it will not improve their quality of life or ability to recognize people.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is carrying out a trial to see if cataract surgery is beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s.

Memory Impaired Care

If you or your loved one are in need of a long-term care for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Scenic Galloway township, New Jersey has a state-of-the-art memory impaired care unit. They have several innovative kinds of therapeutic treatments such as a Snoezelen Room. Read more about memory impaired care in our blog post from May 29, 2018.

Conclusion

Since aging is a risk for several serious eye conditions including cataracts it pays to do all we can to protect our eyes from vision loss. The most important thing for seniors over age 60 is to go for an annual comprehensive eye exam.

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