How your vision changes as you get older

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Posted on: 27 January 2017 by John Bell

This article looks at some of the conditions you might have to deal with as you age, and how your eyes change as you get older.

As we get older, our bodies undergo a series of significant and often life-altering changes. Our eyes are not immune from these changes, and most people will experience an age-related decline in their visual acuity as they age, particularly as they move past 60.

One of the most common ways our eyes will change is an increase in difficult focusing on close up objects - a condition known as presbyopia. This is common in those 40 and above, and is completely normal. It’s caused by a hardening of the lens inside your eye, and is one of the most common eye-related changes (and doesn’t signify any sort of disease process).

Most people will simply compensate for the effects of presbyopia by moving their morning paper further away, but eventually most people will need to visit an optician and get a prescription for reading glasses. This exact process happened to me, although I quite like my Ray Ban glasses! Corrective surgery is also available for presbyopia, but most people will simply opt for reading glasses.

Cataracts are also extremely common as people get older, and although they’re technically an age-related disease, they have become so prevalent among older people that most physicians would consider them part of the ageing process.

Cataracts are hugely common in both the UK and the US, with approximately 50% of those over 65 suffering from some level of cataract formation. This percentage increases with age too. The treatment for cataracts is very safe (as surgery goes) and it can usually restore full vision to the patient.

The other major age-related issue is AMD, or age-related macular degeneration. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the UK and the United States, and is a major risk factor as we get older. Other age-related eye diseases include glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, both of which increase in risk factor as we age.

Apart from the risk of diseases and general degeneration of visual acuity, the structure of the eye also undergoes several changes when we get older. Our pupils will reduce in size, we lose some peripheral vision and our colour vision decreases. On top of this, we are at higher risk of dry eyes and vitreous detachment, where the gel-like vitreous inside the eye begins to pull away from the retina, which usually results in symptoms such as flashes or light, or spots in the vision. Although it’s a harmless condition, it can be particularly annoying.

Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do to prevent age-related eye conditions, but you can reduce your chances of encountering them. Stopping smoking is one of the biggest things you can do, as well as ensuring a healthy diet and plenty of exercises. As always, regular eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist are highly recommended. 

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