September is Healthy Aging Month, and with age comes many changes; some we look forward to, and others, not so much. But longer life spans and aging baby boomers have sent the number of “older” adults into a record growth. It is estimated that older adults will account for 20% of the population by 2030. Where there is growth, there is also an increase in chronic and degenerative illnesses, including eye health concerns.
Some vision changes, like trouble reading fine print, seeing in low light, or distinguishing between similar colors (blue and black), are common. But these changes could also indicate a greater risk for eye health problems. Age-related vision loss affects almost 3.5 million people 40 and older, and the leading causes of this vision loss are usually manageable if recognized early. These leading causes include:
- Age-related eye health
- Population expected to double by 2050
- Retinal blood vessel constriction due to poor blood glucose control
- Population expected to be over 15 million by 2050
While vision loss is not usually a byproduct of occasional dry eye, it’s another common eye health issue many older patients suffer with.
Vision decline and blindness have been associated with illness, falls and injuries, depression, loneliness, and even death. We have a few suggestions for you to help your patients stay healthy as they age.
Encourage Regular Eye Exams
Eye health concerns often go unnoticed until the damage is too far gone. Only half of adults in the county at high-risk for vision loss saw an eye care professional in the last year. Encouraging regular visits to your practice, especially for your high-risk patients and those 50 and older, can help detect these concerns and, hopefully, protect your patients’ long-term sight.
Patients should schedule yearly eye exams, unless their eye health indicates otherwise, but it’s important they know to come in if they experience any of the following visual changes:
- Decreased vision
- Draining or redness of the eye
- Eye pain
- Double vision
- Halos around lights
- Flashes of light
Make Sure Your Patients Understand Their Risk
Some patients believe that they don’t have a “risk” for serious eye health problems. Explaining the different risk factors and explicitly telling patients which they should be concerned about helps make the information stick. Some risk factors patients should know about include:
- Family history of certain eye health concerns
- Approaching a high-risk age
- Current or former smoker
- Blood glucose control issues
- High BMI
- Low macular pigment optical density (MPOD)
Help Patients Live a Healthy Life
Simple lifestyle changes could help mitigate the risk of certain eye problems. Some of these suggestions are well-known, as they support overall health as well: eat healthy; exercise; quit smoking or don’t start. But while they’re well-known, they are also often ignored or brushed off. Diet is important for overall health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture created a list of guidelines to follow for a healthful diet, including:
- Have a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk products like fat-free or low-fat milk.
- Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
- Try to exclude saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.
Living an Eye-Healthy Lifestyle
Though a healthy diet is necessary in supporting health in general, Ward Bond, PhD, says, “Too often people take their eyesight for granted, not realizing that the food we put into our body impacts not just conditions like cardiovascular health, but eye health as well.” Even with regular exercise and a good diet, your patients need more to protect their eyesight. Taking an eye health nutraceutical like EyePromise® can help bridge nutritional gaps in patients’ diets and mitigate their risk for developing serious eye health concerns.
Along with creating a healthy lifestyle, patients should protect their eyes when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays and high-energy blue light by using proper protection. (sunglasses, hats, 20-20-20 rule, etc.)
The exponential growth of “older” Americans has increased the estimation of blind and visually impaired individuals two-fold by 2030. Stressing the importance of treating long-term eye care as part of a patient’s overall healthcare plan could help decrease that number and, consequently, improve the quality of life for millions.
To help patients understand how their eyes change throughout the decades, download the following infographic:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AARP, American Medical Association. Promoting Preventive Services for Adults 50-64: Community and Clinical Partnerships.Atlanta, GA: National Association of Chronic Disease Directors; 2009.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The State of Aging and Health in America 2013. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2013.
- Jegtvig, Shereen, and Gary Heiting. “How To Boost Your Diet To Protect Aging Eyes.” All About Vision, AAV Media, LLC., May 2017, www.allaboutvision.com/over60/nutrition.htm.
- Jegtvig, Shereen, and Gary Heiting. “How to Choose Nutritional Supplements for Vision and Eye Health…” All About Vision, AAV Media, LLC., Nov. 2016, www.allaboutvision.com/nutrition/supplements.htm.
- “Keep an Eye on Your Vision Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 May 2016, www.cdc.gov/features/healthyvision/index.html.
- “Make Vision a Health Priority!” National Eye Institute.
- “See Well for a Lifetime.” National Eye Institute, Aug. 2017.
- “The Eyes Have It: Tips for Healthy Aging.” BrightFocus Foundation, BrightFocus Foundation, 28 Apr. 2017, www.brightfocus.org/macular-glaucoma/article/eyes-have-it-tips-healthy-aging.