Aging Well: How to Protect Your Vision

Regular eye exams are key to protecting your vision. Photo Courtesy: Inside Creative House/iStock

Welcome to Aging Well, a The Health Feed series with tips to help you protect your health and well-being as you get older. This first edition focuses on eye health — and throughout the series, we’ll bring you trusted tips to help you stay strong, healthy and independent for years to come.

Many eye diseases are more common in older adults. But vision loss does not have to be a normal part of aging. In fact, you can make simple changes to your daily routine to lower your risk for eye diseases that cause vision loss. 

In this guide, we’re offering evidence-based tips to help you protect your vision as you get older. Learn how changes you make today can protect your sight for a lifetime.

Will My Vision Change as I Get Older?

Yes, everyone’s vision changes slightly as they get older. After age 45, the lens of your eye doesn’t focus as well — and that makes it harder to see things up close. That’s why many older adults use glasses to read. 

If you’re having trouble reading or seeing things up close, see your eye doctor for an exam. Your eye doctor may recommend prescription reading glasses or contacts, or you may be able to use over-the-counter reading glasses.

While this small vision change is a normal and expected part of aging, more serious vision changes and vision loss are not normal. See your doctor right away if you notice changes in your vision. 

Am I at Risk for Eye Diseases?

Older adults are at higher risk for several eye diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

  • Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of your eye. More than half of Americans over age 80 have had cataracts. The good news is, a simple surgery can fix cataracts.
  • Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damages the nerve that connects your eye to your brain. Early treatment can stop the damage and protect your sight.
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that makes your central vision blurry. People ages 55 and older are at higher risk for AMD, but there may be treatments that can help.

Diabetic eye disease is another main cause of vision loss in older adults. If you have diabetes, you’re at risk for diabetic eye disease — and your risk gets higher as you get older.

Your risk for eye diseases may also be higher depending on your race, gender, family history of eye diseases and any other health conditions you have. Talk with your doctor about your personal risk for eye disease.

And remember, while your risk for these eye problems goes up as you age, you can still take steps to protect your eye health. So don’t give up on your eyes! 

How Can I Protect My Sight?

Taking care of your eye health can be as simple as eating your veggies and remembering your sunglasses when you leave the house. Follow these six tips to protect your vision.

1. Get Regular Eye Exams

Eye diseases that cause vision loss often have no early symptoms. So the only way to find them early is to get regular eye exams. Your eye doctor can test your vision and find eye problems early, when they’re easier to treat. 

The National Eye Institute says that everyone over age 60 needs an eye exam every one to two years. But depending on your risk for eye diseases, you may need to start getting eye exams earlier or get them more often. For example, people with diabetes may need to get eye exams at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you need an eye exam.

2. Eat Right for Your Sight

Healthy eating is key to your overall health. It can help prevent conditions like diabetes that can damage your eyes. And certain foods have nutrients that can help protect your vision, including:

  • Leafy green veggies, like spinach and collards
  • Dark orange veggies, like sweet potatoes and carrots
  • Fish that provide Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and tuna

So eat plenty of colorful veggies and fatty fish as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

3. Stay Active to Keep Seeing Your Best

Regular physical activity is another key way to stay healthy as you get older. And it lowers your risk for health conditions that can affect your vision, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

Try to get about two and half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. That’s anything that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, like walking, biking or swimming. You could do 30 minutes on five days a week, or whatever schedule works for you. And at least two days a week, do an activity that strengthens your muscles, like yoga, lifting weights or even carrying groceries.

If you’re just getting started, do as much as you can and work your way up to more! Even five minutes of walking a day can make a difference.

4. Manage Your Other Health Conditions

Health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure put you at higher risk for eye problems. So getting these conditions under control is key to protecting your sight. 

For example, if you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can lower your risk for diabetic eye disease. Talk with your doctor about the best way to manage your health conditions. 

5. Always Wear Your Sunglasses

Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can damage your eyes and raise your risk for cataracts. So it’s important to wear sunglasses that block UV light. Try to wear your sunglasses whenever you go out in the daytime — even if it’s cloudy outside.

6. If You Smoke, Quit

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs and your overall health. It also raises your risk for AMD and cataracts. If you smoke, make a plan to quit

Get Help Living with Vision Loss

If you already have vision loss, there are lots of services and devices that can help you make the most of the sight you still have. These are sometimes called “low vision” or “vision rehab” services. 

A specialist can help you learn to do everyday tasks more easily. For example, you may need a magnifying device to help you read, or you may need to rearrange your furniture to help you move around your home better. Ask your doctor about services and devices that can help you live better with low vision.