According to CBS news, by 2030 – when the first baby boomers reach 84 – the number of Americans over 65 will have grown by 75 percent to 69 million. That means more than 20 percent of the population will be over 65, compared with only 13 percent today.
As a nation, if we’re not yet quite at senior age, chances are we’re taking care of someone who is.
Therefore, it’s important to understand the special health needs of our elders. And what usually comes to mind are the “big-picture” ailments: broken bones from a fall; hip replacements and arthritis treatments to ease aching joints; strokes, heart attacks, and cancer.
When we think of vision loss at all, it feels as inevitable as gray hair and wrinkles – what’s a grandma or grandpa without a pair of reading glasses or bifocals?
So it may surprise you to learn that aging vision is a significant cause of depression in seniors. And not only that, but vision impairment may be related to earlier death.
In a study published in Archives of Ophthalmology, researchers found that depression in nursing home residents can be reduced significantly when refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and presbyopia (aging vision) are identified and corrected. Rates of uncorrected vision errors were 15 times higher for nursing home residents compared with those who lived in the community.
But when nursing home residents’ vision improved, so did their quality of life – and their symptoms of depression declined.
Another study found that individuals age 49 and older with cataracts and those age 49 to 74 with age-related macular degeneration appear to have higher mortality rates than those without such visual impairments.
Researchers were unclear if the link between a higher death rate and visual impairment could be due to underlying conditions that cause both accelerated aging and eye problems.
What is clear, however, is that for seniors, vision impairment is a dreaded condition that has a much more profound effect upon their overall well-being and psychological health than was previously thought.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: loss of vision means loss of freedom (particularly freedom of movement), which only exacerbates the other losses the aging body is experiencing.
In a lecture, Lighthouse International’s Barbara Silverstone perceptively wrote, “These meanings are not lost on older people who, understandably, for the sake of their own self-esteem, often hide their condition from themselves and others, or paradoxically view it as a normal part of aging, a perspective reinforced by the blurred boundaries between normal and pathological changes in the aging eye.”
Silverstone goes on to note that “vision impairment has been identified as a precursor of lowered morale and reduced self-esteem. It is not an exaggeration to conclude that vision impairment at any age is a highly emotional issue; and no less so in late life, as reflected in high rates of depression among older people with impaired vision.”
As the baby boomers age, they are likewise changing the face of aging. Think of Madonna, who recently celebrated her 53rd birthday this year – and who is in better physical shape than some folks half her age. Well known for her rigorous adherence to a healthy diet and exercise, she leads the way for the seniors of the future: move over shuffleboard, Jell-O, and canasta; make way for eye exercises, vitamins, and strutting your stuff like Tina Turner.
Does our diet really matter?
As a nation, we are becoming more aware of the importance that our diet plays in our health. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that our diets can also affect our vision. Many of the same vitamins and minerals that the rest of our bodies need are also needed by our eyes. The problem is ensuring that we receive enough of the nutrients to reach all parts of the body that need them. Even with the best intentions in the world it can be difficult to make sure that the foods we eat supply the necessary vitamins and minerals.
Many families have both parents working outside the home. This makes meal planning difficult. Often a per-prepared meal that can be warmed in the micro wave oven is the best that can be done to ensure healthy eating habits. The problem is that many of these meals are prepared in ways that damage the vitamins and nutrients they should provide. In cases where time is just not available to plan and prepare meals an eye supplement may be the only alternative available.
For older people this can be an excellent choice to ensure that they receive the vitamins and nutrients that their aging eyes require. It is even more difficult for elderly people to shop and prepared meals. This is especially true if they are used to feeding more than one person. Trying to cut back recipes can be difficult and just not worth the effort as we age.
Do eye exercises really help?
Exercising eyes is an important part of keeping them flexible and strong. Eye exercises are easy to do and don’t take much time or effort. Which makes them even easier for the elderly to do. The benefits in better vision is beyond price. As we age, it seems at times that our bodies are turning against us. We can do so much less than we are used to doing. This becomes even more important with our vision because this means that we lose the ability to see.
Watching television, reading a book, even recognizing our family members becomes difficult or impossible as our vision fades. It makes it easy for depression to set in. Simple eye exercises can reduce or prevent this loss of vision in many cases. While we may still be restricted physically by our bodies at least we can still interact with those around us.