As our loved ones grow older, we expect to see some age-related vision problems. Trouble reading fine print, farsightedness, myopia, thinning eyelashes and more are all part of the normal aging process. There are, however, serious vision problems that can deteriorate rapidly if they’re not caught in time.
Not all age-related vision problems are normal.
Broadly speaking, there are 3 general categories of age-related vision issues: Vision disturbances, impaired vision, and physical symptoms. The common denominator is that if your loved one has any of the following vision problems, they need to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
Vision Disturbances That Occur With Age
Eye floaters are tiny dots and specks that float across your field of vision. While anyone can see floaters, they are more common with age. That’s because as we get older, the vitreous – that’s the gel-like part of the eye between the retina and the lens – starts to dissolve and become more watery. Parts of the vitreous that haven’t yet dissolved can sometimes float around in the center that has. That’s what causes normal, common floaters.
So the occasional speck or cobweb in your range of vision is nothing to get excited about. If there’s a sudden shower of floaters – especially if you see flashes of light, too – a doctor needs to be called immediately. That kind of floater “burst” could be a sign of a tear or detachment of the retina. And if that’s not treated right away, your loved one could lose their vision.
2) The “dark curtain”
If your loved one complains that they’re experiencing the sensation of a dark curtain falling over their field of vision, you need to make sure they get an emergency doctor’s appointment right away. If you need to, take them to the emergency room. That’s because the “dark curtain” phenomenon is a classic sign of retinal detachment. And if the retina isn’t reattached within hours, vision loss is likely to be permanent.
3) Blind spots
Sudden blind spots in older adults over 60 are a real cause for concern. That’s because the chances of developing a macular hole go up when you hit that age bracket. If your loved one experiences a blind spot or gray area when using one eye, get them to a doctor. Macular holes can be treated – most often with surgery – but they need prompt attention.
Age-Related Vision Impairment
1) Impaired night vision, color vision and the halo effect
Poor vision at night, limited color vision and the appearance of a “halo” around lights are all common symptoms of cataracts. While cataracts aren’t a medical emergency and these symptoms don’t warrant immediate medical attention, do make sure your loved one makes an appointment with their ophthalmologist as soon as they can. Cataracts don’t go away on their own. And if they’re left untreated, complications can set in. So don’t ignore these symptoms.
2) Double vision
There are a host of eye conditions that can cause double vision, and anyone experiencing it should schedule an eye appointment. But for older adults, double vision can be a sign of a much more serious health condition that’s a real medical emergency: stroke. So if your loved one experiences a sudden episode of double vision, take them to the emergency clinic. On the double.
Blurred vision, by the way, isn’t the same as double vision and shouldn’t be a cause for concern other than scheduling a routine eye checkup. If your loved one has diabetes, though, blurred vision might be a sign of diabetes-induced damage to the retina (diabetic retinopathy) – and an urgent appointment is in order.
3) Loss of peripheral vision
Is your loved one complaining that their peripheral vision isn’t what it used to be? If so – or if it seems that way to you – schedule an appointment as soon as you can. Loss of peripheral vision is one of the signs of glaucoma, one of the most dreaded eye diseases around. If it’s left untreated, your loved one will lose more and more of that peripheral vision and could end up either legally or completely blind.
Physical Eye Symptoms
1) Pain, nausea, vomiting
These three symptoms – including redness of the eye – can indicate a sudden attack of narrow-angle glaucoma. What’s that? It’s when glaucoma occurs suddenly and rapidly. This is a serious medical emergency, so if your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms go straight to the ER.
2) Irritated eyes
This is usually a symptom of dry eye syndrome, which is really common in older adults. No, it’s not a medical emergency. But don’t push off treatment, because it usually gets worse and can cause a lot of discomfort, pain and vision issues for your loved one.
I know, a lot of this sounds scary. But knowing which warning signs to look out for means you can make sure your loved one gets the best, most prompt treatment for any age-related vision problems that come up. And prompt treatment means the best chance at keeping your loved one’s vision healthy, for as long as possible.