Have you ever looked at yourself in a blurry mirror?
What about being confined in a pitch-dark room?
This is is what one of our residents who was legally blind told me when I asked her how she feels.
Scary, isn’t it?
Although I have discussed about the 10 great things about getting older in my previous post, we cannot deny the fact that aging has some disadvantages too. Whether we like it or not, we start to feel gradual changes and decline in our functionality as we age.
Unfortunately, our eyesight is not exempted from these changes. We begin to develop different eye conditions and diseases.
Vision is one of the most vital senses that makes us capable of doing things on our own. It is therefore very important that we look after our eyes.
Loss of vision is a gradual process. It is probably the worst sensory impairment that we could suffer from. Some people may not even notice that their eyesight is compromised until it’s too late.
A lot of our residents in the nursing home have some form of eye disease or visual impairment which is impacting on their quality of life.
That’s why it is crucial to know about the common symptoms associated with these 5 most common eye conditions that have a high potential to be experienced by elderly people.
5 Most Common Eye Conditions
1. Refractive Errors
Common eye disorders resulting from the abnormal shape of the eye which causes light not to bend correctly on the retina thereby causing blurring of vision and inability to see clearly. Symptoms include headaches, tiredness, hazy vision and reduced concentration.
Refractive errors include nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness ( hyperopia), astigmatism and presbyopia.
They can be treated by wearing eyeglasses, contact lenses or laser surgery.
2. Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD is an eye disease which is characterized by blurring of vision as a result of the deterioration of the macula (the small central portion of the retina) or when there are leaky blood vessels growing under the retina.
Symptoms include visual distortion such as seeing straight lines as bent, trouble recognizing faces, needing brighter light to read, reduced central vision, difficulty adapting to low light and blurriness.
It is the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over the age of 65. Risk factors include age, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, family history and race (more common in Caucasians).
There is no cure for AMD but there are medications or a light treatment to slow down the progress of the disease. There is also a promising new treatment which involves retinal gene therapy.
Cataract refers to the clouding of the lens of the eye caused by a clumping of protein resulting in blurry vision.
Symptoms include sensitivity to light and glare, seeing halos around lights, inability to see in dim lights, blurriness and fading of colors.
It is caused by the aging process. It can also be caused by smoking, certain diseases like diabetes, UV radiation, trauma and long term use of steroids and other medications.
It can be treated by surgical removal of the cloudy lens of the eye. Early treatment is necessary to prevent it from getting worse.
4. Diabetic Retinopathy
An eye condition which happens as a result of damage to blood vessels inside the retina at the back of the eye due to poorly controlled blood sugar levels.
Symptoms include floaters, blurry or patchy vision, eye pain or redness and difficulty perceiving colors. It can lead to blindness.
There is no cure but managing your diabetes, eye injections and laser treatment can delay or reduce vision loss.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that are characterized by pressure that is too high for the optic nerve to withstand.
Symptoms include hazy or blurred vision, seeing halos around lights, severe eye pain or headache, eye redness, nausea and vomiting.
There is no cure for glaucoma but others are managing to delay the progression with the help of medication, eye drops and surgery.
Keep an Eye on Their Eyes
If left untreated, these eye conditions may quickly lead to blindness. It is very important as caregivers that we monitor our loved ones for signs of failing vision which can include:
- Recurrent falls
- Frequent bumping into things
- Inability to recognize people
- Missing when reaching for items
- Stopping things that they really love such as reading, writing, crocheting etc.
Eye Exercises to Improve Vision
There are some eye exercises that people who have tried them testify of their efficacy. They swear it has improved their vision and eye health. Just like a regular body workout, it just takes time and discipline to carry out in order to see the result.
Some medical professionals say these eye exercises have no scientific basis. Some say they are “bogus”, and that they don’t work. Others say some professionals are only saying that so they won’t go out of business.
I’d say, it doesn’t hurt to try them. Especially now that a lot of people are suffering from digital eye strain due to sitting in front of computer for long hours or watching Netflix on TV or worse, on their mobile phones.
They may not be able to help with some eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma, but they may be able to help with eye strain, certain eye conditions like dry eyes and overall well-being. Who knows, these exercises might work a little… or they might work wonders. If you are interested, here they are:
It doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 65 years old. With all the technology surrounding us, a lot of people including myself has to deal with working behind computer screens for several hours every day. This can damage your eyes.
However, you can release tension in your eyes by trying to blink. Blinking is perfect for lubricating the surface of your eyes and boosting your eye muscle strength.
In this exercise, you have to first close your eyes and keep them closed for half a second. Then, you have to open and repeat the process. It is better to do it 15 times.
The 20-20-20 rule
This exercise is very good for people suffering from eye strain due to prolonged sitting in front of the computer.
The rule says that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
You can look out the window and focus onto something such as a tree or a post. This gives some time for your eyes to get a break from the glare of the computer. Setting an alarm may be a good idea for this exercise.
Tracking near/far and side to side
In this exercise, first, you should hold an object such as a pen or pencil far from your face at an arm’s length. You can also just use your finger to do this. Then gradually get it closer to your eyes. In this way, your eyes will be forced to change their focus.
Then, when the object is close enough, you can do the reverse, trying to get it further and further slowly. Again, changing the focus is a great practice for your eyes.
In the same way, you can move an object from right to left and left to right so that your eyes could trace the movement.
This is another effective strategy for your eyes. It enhances the shape of your eyes and strengthens your eye muscle. How to do it? It’s very simple.
- First, you need to stand/sit and get relaxed.
- Then, slowly start looking at your right side, then the ceiling.
- Next, look at your left and finally to the floor.
- Remember to keep your head still while doing this exercise.
- Do it 10 times clockwise then 10 times anti-clockwise.
The rub down
This works best for people who wear contact lenses. To do it, first, get relaxed and rub your palms briskly so that they get warm. Then, close your eyes, put your palms on your eyelids, and apply very gentle pressure while you are moving your hands from one side to the other side of your eyelids. Do this 10 times for maximum eye relief.
The same is true with the eye press where you apply very gentle pressure using your finger alternately for 10 seconds.
in this exercise, you need to keep in mind that your neck must not move. First, look up and then down while keeping your neck still. Then do the same for your left and right sides. It is good to do this at least 10 times.
The eye bounce
This is an exercise that can be done while sitting, standing or while lying down. To do it, you should keep looking ahead of you. Then, you have to start moving your eyes up and down quickly.
You can do this with your eyes open or closed. Do this 10 times followed by a five-second break.
This is a funny one. Imagine that there is a giant sideways number 8 in front of you. Then, choose a place to start on the number. Start tracing the number 5 times slowly then track back.
Be careful! You should not move your head in this exercise.
Just like the figure eight exercise, you need to use your imagination too. To do it, just stand or sit in front of a big blank wall. Then, imagine that you are writing to one of your friends with your eyes.
In this way, your eyes will move in every possible direction. It is best to do it for 15-20 seconds.
The double thumbs up
This is one of the most effective techniques. It helps you change your eyes’ focus very fast.
First, keep your hands very close to each other while your thumbs are in front of your eyes.
Then, focus on the thumbs for 5 seconds. Next, change the focus and look at any object between your thumbs.
In this way, you will change your focus by looking at a different object at a further distance from your thumbs.
Help Them to Cope
Our eyes are very precious assets to every one of us. Without them, life can be extremely difficult. It is more difficult for older people because their other senses such as hearing, smell and taste deteriorate as well. Loss of vision can greatly affect their physical and social functioning thereby reducing their quality of life.
There are ways to help them maintain their independence despite having these visual impairments.
- We can provide good lighting so they can see better.
- Organize things in the house so they can access them easily and quickly.
- Clear clutter and hazards to minimize any accidents.
- Use contrasting colors so they can easily differentiate things from one another.
- Get them aids that can help them with their daily lives such as magnifiers, clocks or calendars with big prints, talking books etc.
- Provide moral support and encouragement when they are feeling low.
Early detection is vital and it can be achieved by going for a regular check-up to make sure our eyes are working just fine.
If you feel like something is wrong or you have any concerns about your eyes, see your doctor. And don’t delay!