Eye Care for Seniors
Problems More Common With Aging
Problems with eyesight can occur at any age, but are more common in seniors. For most eye conditions the risk rate increases over 70 years or over 80 years old. However, many of the eye conditions that arise as a result of age are considered to be normal by many medical professionals although compensations are possible. Aging does increase the risk for some sight-threatening eye conditions, which is why it is important to be informed and to have regular eye check-ups.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease increase the risk of age related eye diseases. And as we get older poor eyesight can lead to depression and anxiety - such as fear of falling - producing unnecessary changes in gait, loss of balance, and restricted mobility at a time of life when staying active is important to maintain health and quality of life. The good news is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise, good nutrition, regular check-ups and eye vitamins or food supplements may prevent or ameliorate many of these conditions. Prevention is the best medicine for warding off debilitating eye conditions:
Important Lifestyle Factors
- Protect eyes from intense ultraviolet light: wear a hat with a brim when you go out, wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UV radiation. Sunglasses that wrap around your eyes are especially beneficial.
- Watch your sugar intake. Again, for almost eye conditions a higher risk of developing problems is associated with higher sugar intake. For example in the case of cataracts, sugar limits the ability of the eye to keep the lens clear.
- Adopt a healthy diet including lots of leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Drink water daily.
- Do not smoke. Smoking substantially increases risk factors. For example, the risk of developing cataracts is doubled if you smoke. For men smoking more than a pack a day, the risk is 205% higher, and for women, the risk is 63% higher.
- Smoking and aging don't mix. For macular degeneration, the risk is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater if you smoke. If you are over 80 and smoke, the risk jumps to 5.5 times as like to develop AMD.
- Get regular exercise. Walking is one of the best things you can do. Interestingly, research in 2013 is pointing out that physical unfitness is a greater risk than obesity. In other words, people who are overweight, but who are physically fit - people who walk and do other daily activity involving movement - have better overall health than those who are thin but sedentary.
Symptoms Considered "Normal"
- Dry Eyes: 75% of those over 65 experience dryness of eyes due to lessened production of tears. Dry eyes can also be caused or worsened by smoking, drinking coffee, menopausal changes, computer use, overuse of sugar, dehydration, and allergies or could be a symptom of a larger problem like diabetes or auto-immune diseases. Artificial tears are sometimes prescribed but these give only temporary relief and may exacerbate the problem. Homeopathic eye drops for women and for men are quite helpful.
- Presbyopia, or Age Related Focus Dysfunction, is a blurring of close vision which makes it difficult to do fine work. While far-sightedness is caused by inherited and environmental influences on the shape of the eyeball, Presbyopia is due to age related thickening of proteins within the lens, making the lens less flexible. Glasses and or surgery may be recommended while at Natural Eye Care we recommend visual therapy, nutrition and lifestyle changes.
- Cataracts are so frequent among seniors that many eye doctors consider them to be normal. Blurry, hazy vision that worsens over time and over sensitivity to light are signs that an opaque spot on the lens of eye may be growing and obscuring vision. Causes may include buildup of free radicals in the metabolism, chronic stress or pain of the back and neck, food sensitivities or allergies, eye harming side-effects of prescribed drugs, smoking, and poor digestion. In addition cataracts may be formed as a result of other eye surgery or diseases such as diabetes.
- Reduced pupil size makes seniors' pupils less responsive to changes in ambient lighting, needing more light for reading and protection from bright sunlight.
- Loss of peripheral vision can produce a 20 to 30% decrease in field of vision by the time we reach our 70s.
- Decreased color vision is caused by cells in the retina becoming less sensitive to color.
- Spots and floaters are caused by the gel-like vitreous inside the eye becoming more liquid and pulling away from the retina.
Serious Eye Conditions
refers to diseases that cause optic nerve damage, some of which are related to an increase in intra ocular pressure, and which cause progressive vision loss. Symptoms are very few until diminished vision is noticed. Conventional treatments can be pretty drastic but research is showing that vigorous exercise may reduce the intra ocular pressure associated with glaucoma.
is the leading cause of blindness among Americans over the age of 65. Dry macular degeneration causes gradual central vision loss and results from aging and thinning of tissues in the macula or deposit of pigment. Wet macular degeneration arises from the body's attempt to make up for lack of nutrients by building extra blood vessels beneath the retina, but the new blood vessels leak fluid which causes permanent damage to the retinal cells. Studies are showing that AMD is a nutritional and lifestyle responsive eye disease.
is vision threatening damage to the retina caused by diabetes. Blindness is largely preventable if the patient and doctor work together for proper use of medications, blood sugar testing, proper diet and lifestyle, and supplements.
Foods for Senior Eye Health
that have been shown to slow or even reverse the progress of macular degeneration are found in blueberries, artichokes and pecans. Important antioxidants include the carotenoids astaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as nutrients and enzymes that behave like or support antioxidant functioning - glutathione, super oxide dismutase, CoQ10, and alpha lipoic acid. Learn more about antioxidants.
- One family of antioxidants are phytonutrients, which include carotenoids. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are pigments found in the fruits and vegetables and also in high concentration in the macula of the human eye, where they reduce the risk of light-induced oxidation damage that could lead to macular degeneration and glaucoma. Foods rich in these nutrients are green leafy vegetables, especially kale and spinach, collards and turnip greens.
- Here's an example of just one phytonutrient antioxidant: green tea catechins are especially helpful for seniors. Green tea catechins are effective for some conditions for which senior women are most at risk. One study concluded that through modification of estrogen metabolism, green tea might reduce breast cancer risk2 and osteopenia, low bone density. Green tea is helpful for overactive bladder,3 regulation of glucose, LDL cholesterol,4 and general relief of menopausal symptoms, as part of a morning and evening formula combined with other herbs.5
- Natural Eye Care: Your Guide to Vision Health & Healing is a comprehensive guide to the use of and latest research on these antioxidants, amino acids, essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and homeopathics which help to protect your precious vision.
have been found to reduce the risk of both dry eye and macular degeneration. Omega three fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as sardines, herring, salmon and tuna and to a lesser degree in dark green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, walnuts and flaxseed oil. Learn more about omega-3 fatty acids and their relationship to omega-6 fatty acids.
as an antioxidant plays an important role in immune function, helping the surface of the eye to be an effective barrier to bacteria and viruses. It may help or slow the progression of dry macular degeneration. beta carotene (vitamin A) is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe.
helps the body form connective tissue like collagen which is found in the cornea of the eye. Studies are showing that Vitamin C may help prevent the formation of cataracts and vision loss from macular degeneration. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and many vegetables such as bell peppers.
Vitamin D is a membrane antioxidant; it protects membranes against oxidative damage. Your body can create vitamin D from enough sun exposure. However, people in northern climates or those who do not spend enough time outdoors, may have a deficiency. Milk is vitamin D-fortified to help calcium absorption, but this may not be enough. Make sure your milk is fortified with vitamin D3, not D2 (which is not as beneficial and can be toxic in large doses). Seniors require four times the amount of sunshine to get the same amount of vitamin D as a 20-year-old.1 The accepted normal range for vitamin D levels runs from 20 to 50 nanograms per milliliter.
is an antioxidant which helps protect cells in the eye and throughout the body from damage due to metabolic by-products. Vitamin E is found in wheat germ, almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.
may help against macular degeneration and night blindness by helping to absorb Vitamin A and helping enzymes fight free radicals. Zinc is found in oyster, sea food, eggs, black-eyed peas and wheat germ.
helps to absorb Vitamin E and is found in oysters and other sea foods as well as in wheat germ.
helps relax the muscles that control circulation of vitreous gel in the eye, it is found in almonds, wheat germ, and green leafy vegetables.
is a trace element, tied to blood sugar regulation, fat metabolism and blood circulation. It is especially found in brewer's yeast, eggs, and potato skins.
Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies
Seniors whose efficiency of digestion is compromised, who take medications which deplete key nutrients or who live in institutions may have trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables to supply the nutrients required for eye health.
Juicing is a flavorful and efficient way to ensure an adequate intake of enzymes, vitamins and minerals. A daily glass fresh organic juice for retinal support may contain ginger, garlic, asparagus, leeks, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, parsley, pumpkin, beets, celery, cabbage, carrots, chlorophyll, and raspberries, while a glass of juice aimed at optic nerve health prevention would include celery, cucumber, carrots, radish, parsley, turnip, beets, raspberries, cabbage, apple, and plums.
1. Kruse, J. (2013). Epi-paleo Rx: The prescription for disease reversal and optimal health. New Orleans, LA: Optimized Life, PLC.
2. Fuhrman, B.J., Pfeiffer, R.M., Wu, A.H., Xu, X., Keefer, L.K., et al. (2014). Green tea intake is associated with urinary estrogen profiles in Japanese-American women. Nutr J, Feb 15;12:25.
3. Fuhrman, B.J., Pfeiffer, R.M., Wu, A.H., Xu, X., Keefer, L.K., et al. (2014). Green tea intake is associated with urinary estrogen profiles in Japanese-American women. Nutr J, Feb 15;12:25.
4. Wu, A.H., Spicer, D., Stanczyk, F.Z., Tseng, C.C., Yang, C.S., et al. (2012). Effect of 2-month controlled green tea intervention on lipoprotein cholesterol, glucose, and hormone levels in healthy postmenopausal women, Can Prev Res, Mar;5(3):393-402.
5. Sun, J. (2003). Morning/evening menopausal formula relieves menopausal symptoms: a pilot study. J Alt Complement Med, Jun;9(3):403-9.