Healthy Aging Includes Healthy Vision

women dancing in exercise class

Physical activity can lower your risk for health conditions that can affect your vision, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Vision problems are often considered a normal part of aging, but they don’t have to be. This Healthy Aging Monthexternal icon, the Vision Health Initiative wants to make sure you know that protecting your vision is important to healthy aging.

US adults aged 40 and older are at greatest risk for eye diseases. About 6.5 million in that age group have vision impairment, including nearly 1 million who are blind. This number is expected to double in the coming years as the US population ages.

Regular dilated eye exams are key to early detection and treatment to improve and preserve your vision now and in the future.

Age-Related Eye Diseases

Some vision impairment, such as refractive errors (problems with focus), are a normal part of aging. Presbyopiaexternal icon, or nearsightedness, is a common refractive error that affects older adults, usually starting around age 45. Presbyopia makes it hard to focus up close but can easily be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

The major causes of vision impairment and blindness in older adults are age-related eye diseasesexternal icon such as glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Your risk for developing age-related eye diseases significantly increases after age 65.

  • Glaucoma—a group of diseases that damages a nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve. Glaucoma can affect one or both of your eyes.
  • Cataracts—a clouding of your eye’s lens that affects over 24 million people in the United States.
  • AMD—a slow breakdown of the light-sensitive tissue in your eye, causing loss of your central vision.

The most common cause of vision impairment among adults over 40 is diabetic retinopathy—a common complication of diabetes. One in three adults over 40 with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetes, understand your risk and learn how to protect your vision and eye health.

Finding and treating these eye problems early is important to preventing vision impairment.

Aging and Vision Impairment Risks

Chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis are more common among older people with vision impairment than those without it.

Older adults with vision impairment also have a higher risk for:

  • Falls and injuries.
  • Social isolation.
  • Depression.
  • Reduced quality of life and daily functioning.
  • Trouble following instructions related to health and medicines.

Thinking of your vision health as a part of your overall health can help you take steps to prevent these related problems.

Low Vision and Aging

Low visionexternal icon is a problem that makes it hard to do everyday activities. It can’t be fixed with glasses, contact lenses, or other standard treatments like medicine or surgery. You may have low vision if you can’t see well enough to do things like:

  • Read.
  • Drive.
  • Recognize people’s faces.
  • Tell colors apart.
  • See your television or computer screen clearly.

Aging does not cause low vision on its own, but the condition is more common in people over 50.

If you have low vision, ask your eye doctor about vision rehabilitation services and devices that can help you make the most of your eyesight. You can also seek out resourcesexternal icon for low vision in your area to help you manage your vision loss.

What You Can Do

Follow these simple steps to reduce your risk for vision impairment:

  • Get a regular eye exam for early detection and treatment of eye problems.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens, which are high in antioxidants.
  • Quit smoking or don’t start—an important way to prevent AMD and other common eye diseases.
  • Know your family history. Some eye diseases run in families, and early treatment is often the most effective.