Vision Loss and Seniors

Aging Increases Chances for Vision Loss

Medical Eye Drops

As we age changes take place in our eyes which can lead to partial or full vision loss. Many of these changes take place slowly and painlessly and it is sometimes only when the condition is far advanced that it becomes noticed.  A 2011 survey that did not include seniors in nursing homes found that: 12.2% of Americans 65 to 74 years of age reported they had vision loss, and 15.2% of Americans 75 years of age and over reported they had vision loss, which was defined as not being able to see well even with eye glasses or contact lenses. Had the survey included seniors in nursing homes the numbers would have been greatly increased.

The main serious eye disorders that affect seniors are:

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading disease that causes vision loss in people over age 60 in the United States. Basically, AMD damages a small spot in the retina called the macula. It strikes people over the age of 50 and it destroys central vision in either one or both eyes. It can advance slowly or very quickly. There is no known cure for AMD, but there are treatments to control some of the symptoms. However, life style changes may help such as getting more exercise and eating a good nutritious diet with lots of dark green and yellow vegetables. Some studies show that blueberries and grape seeds may help to prevent AMD, but more research is needed. Non smokers are less affected by AMD. Wearing sunglasses, wide brimmed hats or visors can help protect the eyes from further damage.

Diabetic Retinopathy is destruction of the retina in the eyes due to diabetes and is a major cause of blindness. Treating diabetes and getting glucose and insulin levels under control seem to be the only way of preventing diabetic retinopathy.

Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become cloudy and make for blurred vision. Surgery is often necessary to restore vision.

Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by pressure building up in the eyes. This can go unnoticed and is often only discovered during an annual eye exam, which is why it is crucial for seniors to go for a yearly eye check-up. The American Optometric Association recommends a yearly eye exam for everyone over age 60.

There are several different types of glaucoma and the treatment varies accordingly. Some cases are treated with lasers – others are treated with drops that reduce pressure in the eyes and some cases are a combination of both laser and medical eye drops. Preventive treatment can help to ward off a major attack of closed angle glaucoma.

Dry Eye Syndrome is common to seniors. Simply, the eyes do not produce enough quality tears to keep the eyes lubricated. Once the diagnosis is made, special lubricating eye drops are prescribed. The best ones are those that do not contain any preservatives, as eye drop preservatives like benzalkonium chloride are eye irritants and can worsen the condition. If dry eyes are not treated, the corneas of the eyes can become damaged and this can contribute to vision loss.

Shingles can Attack Eyes

Other eye conditions that mainly affect seniors are complications from shingles herpes zoster. Some cases of shingles attack the eyes and immediate medical treatment is needed by an ophthalmologist to prevent vision loss. Treatment is usually with anti-viral eye drops. However, if treatment is delayed or missed, the person can be left with vision loss from the attack of shingles.

Prescription Drugs that Can Do Temporary or Permanent Damage to the Eyes

Some eye problems can be caused by some prescription medications and seniors tend to take a lot of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. It is very important to know which meds can affect the eyes. Some eye conditions that develop from drugs can be reversed if the person stops taking the drug. Unfortunately some drugs can do permanent irreversible damage to the eyes and result in vision loss.

Types of Drugs that Can Dangerously Affect Eyes

Some drugs that in some people can have dangerous effects on the eyes are blood pressure lowering meds, menopause treatments, anticholinergic drugs, the antibiotic minocycline, erectile dysfunction drugs, osteoporosis medications, cyclosporine, drugs to treat enlarged prostates, beta blockers, diuretics, cholesterol lowering drugs, anti-depressants, tamsulosin (Flomax), corticosteroids, medicines for Parkinson’s Disease and many more.

Over-the-counter Drugs and Herbs

There are also over-the-counter drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and some kinds of antihistamines that can have bad effects on the eyes. Even some medicines for hemorrhoids can cause eye problems.  Herbs like whole licorice root and herbs which are anticholinergic also can be dangerous for the eyes. Many patients will not even bother to mention these to their doctors assuming that they are not important.

Strokes and Vision Loss

Strokes that attack areas of the brain that control vision can result in all kinds of vision problems and blindness.


Several eye disorders that can lead to vision loss or even blindness affect seniors and in fact the older the age the greater is the risk. Thus, it is crucial for seniors to have yearly eye exams by a qualified ophthalmologist. It is not enough to go to an optometrist because an optometrist cannot perform the same kinds of eye examinations that an ophthalmologist can. Likewise any unexplained changes in vision should not be ignored, as the sooner proper treatment is begun the more likely it is that vision loss can be stopped or slowed down.

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