A relatively new subspecialty of Optometry, geriatric eye care services are provided as an important part of one’s overall health management. With aging comes an increased need for comprehensive eye exams and for high-level, advanced treatment of many common ocular diseases. In addition, more and more of the global elderly population is enjoying their golden years with an active and healthy lifestyle. Nowadays, there is an unprecedented quality of life for seniors that makes quality geriatric eye care even more important than ever.
Eye Exams to Diagnose Ocular Disease
Complete ocular evaluations for the geriatric population pay special attention to signs of age-related diseases, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. These exams are recommended annually past the age of 65, even if there are no visual complaints or reported symptoms. Many common eye diseases progress very slowly and don’t generate symptoms until it is too late to prevent a degree of vision loss.
Physical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which rise in frequency as people age, are strongly associated with eye health problems. A total geriatric eye exam will inspect for the signs or effects of these risk factors. Cataracts are perhaps the most prevalent ocular disease in the elderly, and another significant feature of geriatric eye care is quality preoperative and postoperative management for cataract surgery. The specialized attention given by dedicated geriatric optometrists has been linked with more successful outcomes from surgical procedures to remove cataracts.
Visual Acuity Testing
Fortunately, many visual conditions in seniors are treatable, and optometric experts are now being specially trained to evaluate geriatric eyesight. An assessment of visual acuity is a vital part of complete eye examinations for seniors. Statistics report that as many as 94% of patients in nursing homes require eyeglasses for myopia or presbyopia, yet sadly only 31% may be wearing appropriate eyewear vision correction! Untreated visual impairment can put the elderly at risk for many negative consequences, such as eyestrain, blurred eyesight and increased incidences of falls due to decreased coordination and lost balance. These falls are particularly hazardous, as they lead to a higher risk of injury and dependence, which severely impacts the quality of life for the aged. An up-to-date vision prescription and adequate eyeglasses are imperative for the long-term health of the whole body.
If Low Vision is diagnosed, qualified eye specialists can provide advice and assistance regarding specialized devices and aids to maximize any remaining vision. Low vision can have a negative impact on the ability to perform routine tasks, such as driving, cooking or reading. This lack of mobility and total dependence on friends and family often leads to debilitating depression. Optometrists who specialize in geriatric care understand the need to help older adults maintain as much independence as possible. Proper eye care services can prevent this whole deterioration. One-on-one consultations allow eye doctors to respectfully determine the best low vision treatments for a senior citizen’s individual lifestyle and visual requirements. When seniors are homebound, these consultations are offered as in-home visits – making geriatric eye care as easy and convenient as possible.
Eye Symptoms and Warning Signs
Routine geriatric eye examinations are the best preventive medicine, however, there may be significant symptoms that appear between eye doctor exams, and these should not be ignored!
If you experience any of the following signs, it’s advised to schedule a visit to your eye doctor:
I’m seeing floaters across my vision…
Noticing tiny shapes that seem to drift across your field of vision may be meaningless, or it may indicate a retinal detachment.
I think I am having vision loss…
This could be due to macular degeneration or a severe migraine, or it could point to various other eye conditions. It could also mean that a stronger eyeglass prescription is needed.
My eyes are tearing a lot…
Excess tears could be the result of many culprits, including allergies, an irritating substance in the eye, corneal abrasion or infection.
I am having trouble with my eyesight…
Any change in eyesight, such as trouble focusing, double vision, blurry or cloudy sight, seeing halos around lights, poor night vision, sensitivity to light, seeing spots or flashes of light, viewing wavy lines instead of straight and trouble identifying colors, is a warning sign to call an eye doctor.
My eyes always seem to twitch…
This may be a sign of a muscle problem or other health condition.
If you notice any of the following signs in an elderly person, it’s recommended to book an appointment at the eye doctor. These include:
- Excessive blinking or squinting
- Loss of coordination, such as tripping or bumping into things all of the time
- A change in the appearance of his eyes: this could be described as crossed eyes, a change in the color of his irises, redness or swelling, bulging eyes or a bump on his eyelid.
- Trouble reading signs or recognizing people
- Wearing clothing that is mismatched or stained
- Complaints about how his eyes feel: examples include discharge, itching and burning, pain, eye fatigue or trouble with closing his eyelid.
- Bringing objects and text close to his eyes in order to view them
Collaboration is Necessary for Top Geriatric Care
When providing optometric care for seniors, a collaboration between all medical providers is critical. Many elderly patients take a variety of medicines, and there’s often a complicated medical picture. Communication and the full sharing of information is the best way to ensure that the patient receives the most appropriate, individualized eye care.