Here’s how to protect your vision as you age
Worse, glaucoma and macular degeneration can pose serious threats to vision, making reading difficult and jeopardizing independent living.Blindness is among the public’s top health fears, according to the National Association for Eye and Vision Research, an advocacy organization, consistently up there with cancer and paralysis in polls of health concerns, according to the American Foundation for the Blind, another advocacy group.
As baby boomers age, more people will be confronted with vision problems. Among Americans older than 40, there are an estimated 41 million cases of blindness, low vision or age-related eye disease, according to the patient advocacy organization Prevent Blindness, which predicts that this number will grow to 64 million by 2032.
By the time they’re 80, more than half of all Americans have had cataracts, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “It’s a normal part of the aging process, like getting gray hair,” says Melanie Buttross, an ophthalmologist with Eye Associates of Washington. As time passes, the eye’s lens becomes more opaque and dense, eventually causing blurry vision. This condition is called a cataract.
Just as some people go gray early, some get cataracts early. Daniel Pluznik, an ophthalmologist with Eye Physicians of Washington, says he has “a fair number of patients in their 40s” with cataracts. “The more nearsighted you are, the younger you tend to develop them,” he explains. The risk doesn’t appear to run in families.
At first the blur can be counteracted with changes in prescription, but if it interferes with daily activities, doctors may recommend surgery — a generally safe, extremely common procedure that often takes less than a half-hour. The surgeon removes the cataract, then inserts a clear artificial lens. The lens can be customized to correct vision. Afterward many patients see better than they have in years.