In a special issue of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, “the aging eye” was the focus of ophthalmic leader worldwide. Eye specialists hoped to garner attention for the unmet needs of the world’s aging eyes. They also hoped to speed up the transition from research finding to actual treatments on patients, which can typically be a very long process.
The world’s ophthalmic leaders are especially concerned now because the number of those suffering from blindness or significant visual impairment is growing. The number of Americans who are either blind or have significant visual impairment is expected to reach over 10 million by the year 2015.
With over 10 million Americans facing devastating vision problems so soon, the impact on health care costs will be incredibly high. The health care costs will not be just the burden of the individual but on society. Since eye problems become a bigger issue with age, the aging population in the United States will continue to see a growing number of people needing eye treatments. It is currently reported that 65 percent of people who suffer from visual impairment are over the age of 50. Out of all the people with blindness in the United States, 82 percent of them are over the age of 50.
The cost of eye care in recent years has been enormous. In 2013, direct medical of retinal disorders were approximately $8.7 billion. The annual cost of cataract treatment is $10.7 billion. And the annual cost in the United States for refractive errors is $16.1 billion. Some of the statistics that pointed to the fact that action must be taken by the scientific community and individuals alike are a bit staggering.
In an effort to formulate some strategies to help the declining vision and its spiraling costs, the Ocular Research Symposia Foundation sponsored a workshop in the summer of 2013. It gave researchers a chance to join together and share knowledge in many areas that affect vision. The topics covered included genetics, biology, biochemistry, neurochemistry and the impact of nutrition and environment of function in the older eye.
This information was then featured in the special issue of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. The special issue has a particular focus on the economic impact, the prevention and the treatment of eye conditions.
Gerald Chader, PhD, FARVO, chief scientific officer at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California and medical director of the Ocular Research Symposia Foundation said, “With an aging world population and startling increases in the prevalence of diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, we feel that this issue is both important and timely, with chapters highlighting problems in and possible solutions to age-related diseases that affect all the major tissues of the eye.”
What Can You Do?
All of this information can be a bit overwhelming for most people. The researchers are hoping not only to spur the scientific community into action by providing this information, they also want to help people understand the importance of being proactive in taking care of their own eyes. Two of the leading problems with aging eyes are cataracts and macular degeneration. Did you know that you can take steps to reduce your risk for both of these eye conditions?
Cataracts are the clouding of the lens of the eye so that it impairs one’s vision. Most cataracts are related to old age, but there are ways to help reduce your risk of developing them. One of the most important ways to reduce your risk of cataracts is through proper diet. Four nutrients that are important to reducing your risk are vitamin C, vitamin E, Lutein and Zeaxanthin.
Vitamin C is commonly found in citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries, and guava. Vitamin E is found in tomatoes, almonds, and broccoli. Spinach and blueberries pack a double punch, containing both vitamin C and vitamin E.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are both found in kale, lettuce and spinach. Lutein can also be found in eggs. Did you notice that spinach contained all four of these vitamins and nutrients? I guess Popeye was smart to be eating all of that spinach! He probably didn’t develop any cataracts as he got older.
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Macular degeneration occurs because of damage to the retina. The damage results in blurred or dead spots within the field of vision. The damage comes in the form of dead photoreceptors or the leaking of blood vessels into the retina. Macular degeneration usually occurs slowly and each eye is affected at different rates.
To combat macular degeneration through diet, make sure you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and beta carotene. We covered vitamin C and E earlier; to get zinc into your diet, add oysters, yogurt, beef and oatmeal to your diet. To get more beta carotene into your diet, add carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
Reducing the Risk for Both
As you can see, a proper diet will help reduce your risk of developing these common, debilitating conditions. Besides diet, there are a couple of other steps you can take which will reduce your risk. One of the biggest threats to your vision is smoking. It contributes to both of these eye conditions. The other biggest risk factor is UV damage, so protect your eyes from sun exposure. Sun exposure can contribute to the development of both macular degeneration and cataracts.