According to Prevent Blindness America, the risk of severe eye problems increases significantly with age. Vision impairment is common for most people over 65.
Robin Quigg is a certified ophthalmic technician with The Eye Institute of West Florida who spoke at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center. She encouraged seniors to get a "comprehensive dilated eye exam every year."
Quigg addressed the leading causes of blindness in seniors:
- Macular Degeneration
- Diabetic Retinopathy.
Here is some of what she shared regarding each of these diseases:
• Cataracts - "Most people in their 60s have some degree of cataracts, although they might not realize it," Quigg said. She explained cataracts just come with age. A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens that affects vision. Common symptoms are cloudy or blurry vision.
Quigg said if cataract surgery, which involves removing the cloudy lens, is needed this is an easy process for most people, and after treatment, you just might see better than ever.
• Glaucoma - This is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and is one of the leading causes of blindness. What is alarming about glaucoma, as pointed out by Quigg, is that victims of this eye disorder are very likely not to even know they have this vision-debilitating illness. That's because there are often no warning signs during the early stages of this disease; hence, Quigg said it has earned the title of being the "silent theft of sight."
In time, as the glaucoma progresses, it slowly damages the optic nerve fibers of the eye. The result: your vision span narrows creating "blind spots" within your field of vision. While there is no cure for glaucoma, one's vision loss can usually be prevented or slowed by proper treatment and continual followup and monitoring of the disease. The most common treatment for early stages of this disease is eye drops.
• Macular Degeneration - The macula is the part of the retina that can experience what is known as "Age-Related Macular Degeneration" or ARMD. The disease is termed "age-related' because it only occurs in patients older than 50 years of age, and is the leading cause of severe visual loss in people over 65 years of age in the U.S. ARMD blurs the sharp, central vision you need for straight-head activities such as reading, sewing and driving.
ARMD occurs in two forms: a "dry" form and a "wet" type, and everyone with this disease gets it in both eyes. Dry ARMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, leading to gradual blurring central vision. While there is no effective treatment for advanced dry ARMD, the good news is there is a brand new, FDA approved treatment for wet ARMD. Quigg says this drug is known as Eylea, and involves an individual receiving several injections for a period of time.
• Diabetic Retinopathy - Approximately 16 million people have diabetes and one-third of them do not know it. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to become blind than people without it. Although diabetes is a disorder of glucose metabolism, the disease affects many different parts of the body, including the eyes. When diabetes affects the eyes, the most serious area it attacks is the retina, which is known as "diabetic retinopathy."
To prevent those who are diabetic from this disease, it goes back to Quigg's urging of "early detection." "By detecting and treating diabetic eye disease early through annual, dilated eye exams," she said, "people with diabetes can preserve their sight."
For more information on these potential debilitating eye diseases as well as facts on other types of eye conditions, please visit The Eye Institute of Florida's website: www.eyespecialist.com.
For free vision & glaucoma screenings or a possible workshop on preventive eye care at your retirement center, mobile home park or senior residential community, please call Robin Quigg, COT, at (727) 439-8532 or via e-mail at: RobinQuigg@yahoo.com.