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Home >> Common Disabilities In The Aged  

 Common Disabilities In The Aged


Eye problems are increasingly common as we grow older, and most of them are not serious threats to our vision. In many cases, the difficulties can be corrected with simple treatment. Hundreds of thousands of eye operations, such as cataract surgery are performed without a glitch every year. In fact, there are more than 300,000 cataract operations in the United States annually, and virtually every one is successful.


  1. Reading problems: As we grow older, most of us find it harder to focus on objects or words near us. This problem is known as presbyopia.
    Remedy: Prescription glasses or contact lenses usually can restore close vision to perfect focus.
  2. Reduced night vision: As you probably know, the average person's eyes usually take about 10 to 30 seconds to adjust to moderate degree of darkness. After that, most people can usually see well enough to make their way about without extra lights. But as we grow older, this ability to see in the dark diminishes. Suggestions: Keep your eye glass prescription up-to-date. Many times, vision problems at night or at dusk are simply an extension of an inability to see clearly in the light. In any event, it is wise to have your eyes checked if you notice persistent night vision problems, and to be more cautious as you move about in the dark.
  3. An increase in 'floaters': Floaters are the small flakes, spots and threads you sometimes see when you look up at the sky or at anything with a light coloured background. We all have these specks, and, like occasional flashes of light in the eye, they are usually nothing to worry about. But if you notice a sudden increase in floaters, or if you find they are accompanied by flashes of light, this condition may signal a possible detached retina. So if it occurs, you should have an eye examination immediately.
  4. Watery eyes: If your eyes tend to tear often, you may be experiencing eye irritation as a result of excessive fatigue or exposure to water (as in swimming). In addition, tearing can be caused by irritation from light, wind or dust.
  5. Remedy: Rest or wear protection over the eyes, such as sunglasses or goggles. Eye drops may also help relieve these symptoms, but, in most cases, you should use such medications only after consulting with your physician. Watery eyes may also occur as a result of infection, allergies or blocked tear ducts. These problems can be best dealt by a physician.
  6. Dry eyes: When your tear glands produce too few tears, your eyes may become excessively dry. Consequently, your vision may become blurred, or you may experience an itching or burning sensation in your eyes. Medical specialists usually prescribe eye drops to remedy this difficulty. The most effective medications include artificial tear solutions that afford considerable relief.

Unfortunately, not all eye problems are as easily treated as these common complaints. But even with more serious eye concerns, swift and effective treatment by a specialist can often take care of the ailment. Some of these conditions are cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.


Cataract, the most common cause of visual problems among older people, often develops over a number of years. It is characterised by cloudy or opaque areas covering part or all of the lens of the eye. The lens is situated just behind the pupil, and it is normally entirely transparent. The function of the lens is to help the eye project images on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina, in turn, transmits these messages to the brain, and sight is the final result. Obviously, if the lens is not transmitting light properly — if it is clouded or otherwise fogged or obscured by a cataract — there are going to be difficulties with sight. Cataracts results from age-associated chemical changes in the lens proteins. They form earlier in life if you ever had an eye injury, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, organ transplant, diabetes and prolonged treatment with steroids.

The symptoms of cataracts may include:

  1. Blurry vision.
  2. Double vision.
  3. Ghost images.
  4. The sense that there is a film over the eye.
  5. The impression that bright light is bothersome.
  6. The impression that artificial or natural lighting, which others may regard as normal, is not bright enough for reading or other close up work.
  7. Frequent changes in the prescriptions of your eye glasses.
  8. The development of a milky or yellowish spot in your normally black pupil, which can be seen from the outside by others.

Treatment: Is surgical, which involves the placement of an artificial intraocular lens implant in the eye during surgery. This implant is a plastic lens that is inserted after the clouded lens is removed. After about two months, the patient is able to see distant objects more clearly. In some cases, he may need a mild correction in his vision with glasses, for instance, for reading.

Cataracts, like glaucoma, may have a hereditary link. So if anyone in your family has had cataracts, you may be at a higher risk and should have your eyes examined more often than the standard every three years.


This progressive disease causes 12% of all blindness in America. It is marked by increased fluid pressure in the eye, which over the years, can cause irreversible damage to the optic nerve that sends vision impulses to the brain. The prevalence of the disease inceases with age, rising from a relatively low level among young adults to as high as 5% to 10% among those who have reached their eighth decade of life.

Usually, glaucoma develops stealthily, over a period of years. In most cases there are no early symptoms, though sometimes a patient may complain of seeing halos (circles) around lights. More obvious symptoms such as pain, redness of the eye, nausea and occasionally vomiting, occur after the disease has progressed to a considerable degree.

Treatment: Vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, but when detected early enough, glaucoma can be controlled. Eyedrops or oral tablets can sometimes help lower the pressure in the eye. If that fails, laser surgery may help unclog the eye's natural drains, allowing fluid to escape and lowering the pressure. And if that does not work, eye surgeons can create an artificial drain to carry away the fluid.

An estimated three million Americans have glaucoma, and half of them do not even know it. Another five to ten million people have the eye pressure build up that precedes the disease, and far fewer than half of them know about it. The best way of dealing with glaucoma is to act immediately. Find out if you have it — now. The earlier the disease is picked up the better will be the control. Therefore, regular eye examination, especially if you are at high risk for glaucoma is as follows:

  1. Do any of your immediate family members have glaucoma?
  2. Are you over the age of 40?
  3. Do you take steroids?
  4. Have you had an eye injury or eye surgery?
  5. Do you have diabetes?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above questions, go in for an eye examination to discuss glaucoma with your doctor. If you answered 'yes' to two or more of them, you are at a higher risk and probably need to see an eye specialist on a yearly basis.


This insidious eye disease robs you of your fine visual skills. In more advanced cases, you would be able to tell someone was standing in front of you, but you could not distinguish who it is. You could see that a bus was coming down the street, but you could not tell which one, because you could not read the sign or the number. The cause remains unknown, but the condition somehow causes deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp focus. Unfortunately, there is little hope right now for restoring sight lost to macular degeneration, though laser surgery may help stabilize sight temporarily. There is some hopeful news, though. Macular degeneration strikes people over 60 almost exclusively, so you can start now — perhaps with the help of an improved diet — to ward it off before it starts.


It primarily strikes people with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in people between the ages of 20 to 50. Loss of vision begins to occur when blood vessels in the back of the eye leak, blurring vision and sometimes denying nutrients to the eye. If you have diabetes, have your eyes checked regularly, it can literally save your sight.

Laser treatments can help slow down the damage from leaking vessels. But again, help is available only if you get your eyes examined regularly. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is even more of a success story than testing for glaucoma. If it is caught early, there is 95% chance and you can retain your sight for at least five years.


You cannot change your genes, so there is not much you can do about the bigger vision risk factor of all — heredity. Still, here is some advice to give you the best chance of staying 20/ 20 into the 21st century.

(1)    Get your eyes checked: Regular eye examinations are by far the most important thing you can do to help preserve your vision. If you are between the ages of 30 and 50 and have no previous eye problems, see an ophthalmologist every three years. If you have a family history of glaucoma or diabetes or are already wearing glasses or contact lenses, get them checked once a year. See the doctor immediately if you have the following conditions:

  1. Sudden changes in vision in one or both eyes.
  2. Unexplainable redness.
  3. Seeing a number of spots or 'floaters' or shower of sparks in the corners of your eyes.
  4. Eye pain that does not go away.
  5. Accidental contact with chemicals.

(2)    Hide behind some shades: Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays and visible blue light may help decrease the risk of cataracts. Wraparound glasses that cover the sides of your eyes are a good idea, since they shield your eyes completely. Also try to wear a hat with a visor to block direct sunlight from your eyes. Exposure to sunlight, drops the age at which you may develop cataracts. So if you are going to be outside, it makes sense to cut that sunlight as much as possible.

  1. Stop smoking: For it causes cancer, wrinkles, stinky clothes, yellow teeth and emphysema. If you need another reason to quit, here it is — cigarette smoking might cause cataracts. A study conducted by 22,000 physicians at Harvard Medical School in Boston showed that men who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day have twice the risk of developing cataracts. The reason is not known, but researchers speculate that smoking may reduce antioxidant levels in your blood, promoting cataract growth.
  2. Try some seafood: The links between diet and vision are still weak. But there is growing evidence that a substance called glutathione may help control the spread of macular degeneration. It is found in fresh green, red and yellow vegetables. Canned or frozen vegetables lose all their glutathione in processing. Zinc may help, but there is no hard evidence yet. Taking multivitamin supplements containing zinc is probably not a bad idea, as long as you are not spending too much money on fancy brands. Antioxidants — vitamins A, C, and E, plus beta carotene — showed promise as cataract fighters. People who eat 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday have a lower risk of cataracts. Eating a healthy diet may delay the usual aging of the lens and so delay cataracts.


    • Reading in dim light can damage your eyes: Myth.
    • Watching television hurts your eyes: Myth.
    • Too much reading wears out your eyes: Myth.
    • Eating lots of carrots improves your vision: Semi-myth.


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