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What to Expect from Your Eyes as You Age

As we grow older, different parts of our body experience the aging process in a multitude of ways. The eyes are no exception, especially once reaching age 60 and beyond. Just like other age-related health developments, there is a spectrum of changes to your overall eye health possible, ranging from natural changes to common issues that are easily treated to more serious age-related eye diseases.

When should I expect to notice natural age-related vision changes?
A natural change in your vision due to the aging process is to be expected, typically after the age of 40. This process, referred to as presbyopia, causes hardening of the lens in your eye and leads to a loss in focusing ability on close objects. As presbyopia gradually progresses, the need to compensate increases. At first, a simple change like holding reading material farther away from your eyes will be enough, although reading glasses, progressive lenses, or multifocal contact lenses may be necessary. 

Past the age of 50, presbyopia continues to advance, which can lead to more frequent changes in your eyeglass or contact lens prescription. Additionally, different prescriptions may be necessary in order to complete different tasks, instead of just a single prescription.

Age-related eye diseases
There are many different eye diseases that can stem from the aging process that range in severity and prevalence. Cataracts, or cloudy areas in the lenses, are one example of an age-related eye disease that can be considered part of the normal aging process. By Mayo Clinic estimates, about 50% of Americans over the age of 65 have some degree of cataract formation in their eyes. After reaching 70 years of age, this likelihood is even greater. 

Other major eye diseases stemming from the aging process include macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. As one of the leading causes of blindness in older Americans, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) leads to gradual vision loss in the center of your eyesight. Glaucoma affects your peripheral vision stemming from damage to the optic nerve. If caught early, glaucoma can be managed by prescription eye drops, lasers, or surgery, although if allowed to progress can result in vision loss and even blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by the swelling of blood vessels in the retina due to elevated blood sugar levels. Prevention of this disease is contingent on regulation of your blood sugar and pressure levels, as well as screenings for diabetic retinopathy during your comprehensive eye examination.

Other age-related eye effects
In addition to presbyopia, there are many other natural changes that your eyes can experience. Examples include:

  • Need for more light due to reduced pupil size
  • Problems with glare, especially when driving at night, caused by changes in the way your lenses focus light
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Decreased color vision or a change in color perception due to lens discoloration
  • Dry eyes due to reduced tear production

Managing eye health throughout the aging process
With many changes to your eyes and vision being a normal part of the human aging process, it is important to be able to distinguish between this and changes that are indicative of more serious conditions. Warning signs that should be paid attention to, and shared with your eye care professional, include:

  • Frequent changes in the clarity of your vision
  • Seeing spots, floaters, or bright and flashing lights
  • Decrease or loss of peripheral vision
  • Seeing distorted images

Serious eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy can often have no detectable warning signs, making it extremely important to consistently schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye care professional.

Be sure to share any and all concerns that you are experiencing with your eyes or vision with your eye care professional, including your family history of any eye or overall health issues. Also be sure to share any medications you are taking, to help your eye care professional determine which recommendations may be the most effective for managing your eye care.