Aging Well: New strategies, support compensate for low vision |

Aging Well: New strategies, support compensate for low vision

Tamera Manzanares

Editor's note: This article originally was published Aug. 10, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy.

Most of us take our eyesight for granted, not realizing that someday it might not be so easy to read, write, drive or recognize familiar faces.

Although normal aging of the eye does not cause low vision, diseases that impair vision are more common among older adults.

Vision problems, while presenting new challenges, don't have to hinder a person's independence.

Learning new skills and strategies including the use of low-vision aids and devices, and seeking support and information are parts of a rehabilitation process that can benefit almost anyone experiencing vision impairment or blindness.

Cataract, which is a clouding of the eye's lens, affects about one in every six adults ages 40 and older in the U.S.

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Cataract surgery, which replaces the clouded lens with an artificial intraocular lens implant, is very common. However, many older adults still lose significant vision because of costs and other barriers to cataract treatment.

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, diet, alcohol use and cigarette smoking are among factors that can affect a person's risk for developing cataract, according to Vision Problems in the U.S. a study conducted by Prevent Blindness in America and the National Eye Institute.

About 2 percent of adults ages 40 and older have glaucoma, which involves gradual degeneration of cells that make up the optic nerve.

Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but vision loss can be deterred with medications, laser treatments and other techniques that lower fluid pressure in the eye, which is thought to play a part in the disease.

Age-related macular degeneration accounts for nearly half of all cases of low vision and is likely the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness in older adults.

Although the cause of the disease, which affects the retina — responsible for clear sharp vision — is unknown, factors such as cigarette smoking and a diet low in certain antioxidants may increase a person's risk, the study notes.

Diabetic retinopathy is another common cause of vision impairment, particularly in older adults who have diabetes.

Careful control of blood sugar and blood pressure might help prevent diabetic retinopathy, and laser treatments have been shown to reduce vision loss in those who have the disease, according to Vision Problems in the U.S.

Because diabetes can increase a person's risk for other eye diseases, it's important people with diabetes have annual dilated eye exams.

In general, people ages 65 and older without special risk factors should have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, Prevent Blindness America recommends.

Signs that a person might have a vision problem and should see an eye doctor immediately include difficulty recognizing faces of friends or family, doing things up close such as reading, picking out and matching the color of clothing or reading street signs.

Although Medicare pays some eye care costs for at-risk people, it stops short of comprehensive prevention care, rehabilitation and treatments. Programs are available to help low-income and/or older adults pay for eye care costs.

The Independent Life Center in Craig can refer people with low vision and/or other disabilities to financial resources that might be able to help. For more information, call 970-826-0833.

The article contains information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology,

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at or 871-7676. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit or call 871-7676.

Living with low vision

Advocate: Visit a low-vision specialist (ask your doctor for a referral) for further evaluation to see whether you can benefit from magnifiers, telescopic aids and other adaptive products.

Support: Participate in a support group such as Independent Living Through Technology to learn how others cope with low vision and to stay up to date on treatments and technology that might be helpful.

Communicate: Write down questions for your eye doctor. Speak openly about your concerns, and consider bringing a family member or caregiver to the visit so they understand your eye condition and challenges.

Anticipate: If your eye doctor indicates that you could lose more vision, be prepared. Learn as much as possible about your condition and rehabilitation services and resources that can help. Stay positive about challenges and be open to developing new skills for daily life.

Assert yourself: Remember that resources are available to help you keep your independence. Ask your doctor for information and referrals.

Be determined: It’s normal to feel anger, grief and depression during vision loss. Stay determined and persistent and make the most of your remaining vision.

Source: Prevent Blindness America,

Low vision resources

■ The Independent Life Center provides advocacy, support and referrals to resources for people with disabilities and their caregivers. The organization also offers Independent Living Through Technology, an information and support group for people experiencing vision or hearing loss. Meetings are held monthly in Craig, Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek. Call 970-826-0833 or 1-888-526-0833.

■ The Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation assists eligible people with disabilities to become productive members of the work force through a variety of programs. For more information, call offices in Craig at 970-824-3246 or Steamboat Springs at 970-871-4853; or visit

■ National Eye Institute — 301-496-5248 or Type “financial aid” in search box for a list of programs that help qualified people pay for vision care.

■ For information and resources related to living with a disability, such as disability laws, housing, health care, employment and education opportunities, visit

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