Healthy Aging, the Eyes Have It
Our eyes play a vital role that can often be taken for granted. It’s hard to imagine not being able to see your grandchildren, your spouse, or a gorgeous Oklahoma sunset when those are our everyday visual experiences. We all know it’s important to take care of our joints, heart, and mind as we age, but one part of the body we often overlook is our eyes.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes September as Healthy Aging Month to promote the signs and symptoms of vision loss so seniors can take care of their sight. In the United States, nearly 3 million adults suffer from vision impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
David Jackson, MD, an ophthalmologist at Dean McGee Eye Institute, and his longtime patient Martha Burger, stress the importance of taking care of your eyes as you age in the video below.
Your health is important
Several health factors can affect your eyesight.
Your diet. Your mother always told you to eat your carrots to help your eyesight, but there are many more options for boosting eye health: fruits; vegetables, especially dark leafy greens; and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon, or halibut.
Family history. Do you have a family history of glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or other eye diseases? Knowing if any of these are in your family tree will help your eye care professional better diagnose and assess your eyes. “We know that our genetics and environment play into our health,” Dr. Jackson said. “Genetics, however, cannot be controlled so a person’s vigilance should be greater if they’re already predisposed to a disorder.”
Smoking. We all know smoking is bad for our health, but smoking also causes an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage, according to the Surgeon General.
Your numbers. Just as you watch your numbers for overall health, watching your weight, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels are all important to maintain healthy vision.
Protect your eyes
We can all take simple precautions to ensure our eyes stay healthy.
Eyewear is a must. Eyewear is an easy way to protect the eyes from outside invaders. Sunglasses that block out UV-A and UV-B radiation or protective glasses or goggles can help prevent eye damage.
Give your eyes a rest. Eyes can become tired after looking at a computer, tablet, or phone for prolonged periods of time, which can ultimately cause dry eye. Two techniques that can be practiced are blink training or the 20-20-20-rule where every 20 minutes a person looks at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Maintain proper hygiene. Washing your hands thoroughly and often is important, especially for those who wear contact lenses or come into contact with their eyes on a regular basis.
Receive regular eye exams
Vision screenings and eye exams sound similar, but are vastly different. Vision screenings can be performed more frequently and take less time for patients and can be performed by a pediatrician, family physician, nurse, or trained technician during a child’s regular medical checkup, while eye exams are conducted by an ophthalmologist and commonly involve the eyes being dilated.
“Most people have vision screenings when they need to be having comprehensive eye exams involving eye dilation,” Dr. Jackson said. “When the eyes aren’t dilated, it limits what we can see and ultimately diagnose earlier.”
Presbyopia, dry eye, cataracts, glaucoma, and more are common eye disorders that affect adults 40 and older. To combat these, it’s recommended to have comprehensive eye exams at a regular rate.
“I wasn’t getting my eyes dilated. I was a ‘my contacts are out and I need a refill’ kind of eye care patient,” Burger said. “I realized I was paying attention to the rest of my body as I began to age, but I was ignoring an important part – my eyes.”
The following are suggestions from the American Academy of Ophthalmology for comprehensive eye exams:
- Age 40: have a comprehensive eye exam.
- Age 40 to 54: an exam every two to four years.
- Age 54 to 65: an exam every one to three years.
- Older than 65: an exam every one to two years
“Don’t take your vision for granted,” Burger said. “All of the tools necessary to keep them healthy are there, so utilize them.”
Maintaining proper eye health is important to remember as we age. By practicing good health, protecting our eyes, and receiving regular eye exams, our eyes will be able to see for many years to come.
“If you haven’t done so already, have a comprehensive eye exam,” Dr. Jackson said.
Take Dr. Jackson’s advice and schedule your appointment with our ophthalmologists at Dean McGee Eye Institute today.