Why is eye care so important in older Australians?
Like many areas of the body and functionality, eyesight can deteriorate heavily as one ages.
When eyesight deteriorates, this impacts innumerable areas of someone’s life. The elderly are already impacted by a loss of mobility, independence, cognition, and access to the community. Having bad eyesight compounds these problems and makes accessing care for them more difficult, too. Bad eyesight can be attributed to issues such as falls, injuries, and social isolation in the elderly.
This is why good eye health is imperative to reducing these negative health impacts and thus reducing hospital admissions for the elderly each year – which come with a whole host of problems and risks, including things like hospital-acquired infections, further loss of functional ability, and loss in mobility.
Furthermore, the risk of serious eye disease also increases as you age. This is due to the naturally lowered ability to fight off disease and illness as you age, but also because issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure actually heighten your risk of height disease, and the risk of getting these illnesses also increases with age.
Common eye problems in older Australians
Age-related macular degeneration
This is a condition that occurs as age damages the macula in your eye, which is responsible for the sharpness of your vision. This causes vision blurriness. Other symptoms include straight lines looking wavy, blurs in your central vision, colours looking less intense, or difficulty seeing in low lighting. If detected early, some types of AMD are treatable, and other types can be slowed in their progression.
Glaucoma is the loss of vision related to direct damage to the optic nerve. This will firstly cause a loss of peripheral vision and slowly get worse. If detected early, it can be prevented from becoming worse. Glaucoma occurs due to high blood pressure in the eye, and it is not reversible. You are at greater risk if you have high blood pressure or if a direct relative has also had glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy can affect your sight due to the blood vessels in the retina of your eye. Symptoms include floaters in the eyesight, patches of blurry or no vision, or vision loss. This disease usually occurs in people with diabetes where the diabetes isn’t well-managed, leading to excess glucose in the blood which damages the blood vessels in the retina. This is why it’s imperative to make sure you understand how to manage your diabetes well to prevent further issues like these occurring. A GP can link you in with a diabetes educator to further understand how to manage your condition best.
Cataracts refer to the clouding or blurring of the usually clear lens of your eye. Cataracts can develop in both or one eye due to injury or ageing. This is why elderly Australians are at a higher risk of developing cataracts. Glasses can usually assist with the symptoms of cataracts – which is blurry, cloudy vision – but surgery may also be indicated for removing cataracts if it is interrupting your functioning.
Solutions and treatments for older Australians
Depending on the eye issue or disease you are facing, there is a myriad of options available for either curing or minimising the impact of your decline in eyesight. Things like eye drops, medications, and surgeries can be utilised to slow the decline in eyesight or cure the problem in and of itself. If your eye issue is to do with a preceding illness – like high blood pressure or diabetes – then speaking with your GP about mitigating those illnesses and risks, too, will minimise the risk of your eyesight further declining. Your GP or optometrist will know the best options for managing your eyesight if you are diagnosed with such a condition.
Risk factors for poor eye health
As mentioned above, some long-standing lifestyle choices or illnesses can exacerbate the risk of developing chronic eyesight conditions. It’s important to note if any of the risk factors are applicable to your situation and the risk of developing eyesight issues.
Having high blood pressure is a risk factor for glaucoma, as this is directly related to the pressure in the eye and the way this can damage the optic nerve. Try speaking with your GP about ways to keep on top of your blood pressure if it has the tendency to spike – this may include changing your diet, exercise regime, or stress levels. It may also include regular medication.
Smoking is a risk factor for degenerating eye health, as this constricts the blood vessels all over the body, leading to potential damage to the blood vessels in the eyes. Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of eye damage also drastically improve your overall health.
Uncontrolled diabetes, as mentioned above, is also a risk factor for eye issues. Speak with your GP or diabetes educator if you need further information on how to manage your diabetes better. As you age, it is important to make sure you are moving your body and eating nutrient-dense food, too, to lower your risk factors of developing Type II diabetes.
4 tips for healthy eyes
1. Eat a balanced diet
Vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s are imperative in maintaining good eye health and good eyesight as you age. Making sure you are eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, good sources of protein such as lean meat and eggs, wholegrains over high GI white carbohydrates, and minimising fat and sugar (in moderation!) is your best bet for getting in all your essential nutrients.
2. Quit smoking!
As mentioned above, quitting smoking will reduce your risk of eye disease and vision loss and your risk of multiple diseases in old age.
3. Check and control your blood pressure
Making sure you’re getting regular general health checkups to keep an eye on your blood pressure is so important in older age, as your risk of high blood pressure and concurrent eye problems increases as you age.
4. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses
Sun damage to the eyes can exacerbate the risk of disease. Make sure you are protecting them from harmful UVs in this harsh Australian sun.
Screening for healthier eyes
Ageing or elderly Australians should aim to have their eyes checked at least every two years. Anyone with previous eye problems or vision problems that require glasses should be checked more often.
Regular eye tests will involve a professional measuring the pressure in your eyes, and the aptitude of your vision, asking about any pain or vision changes, and will measure how your eyes react to light and movement.
If you notice any changes in your vision before regular screens, then chat with your optometrist and get it checked earlier than your next due date.
Even if you’re young, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of getting your eyes checked regularly, too, as early detection of any issues means you are more likely to get on top of the problem. Lots of optometrists will be able to check your eyes for damaged sight or any medical issues for free.
Resources and support for eye care for ageing Australians
- Vision Australia – here
- Vision Initiative – here
- Australian College of Optometry – here
- Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association – here
- Centre for Eye Research Australia – here
- Diabetes Victoria – here
- Guide Dogs Victoria – here
- Optometry Victoria – here
- Pharmaceutical Society of Australia – here
- Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital – here
- The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists – here
- Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation – here
How Homage can assist with your recovery
If you are suffering from bad eyesight or chronic eye conditions, Homage has a team of healthcare professionals available to assist you with any issues you may encounter due to this. A team of care professionals can help you around the home if you are experiencing a decline in independence due to your eyesight – from helping you engage in personal care to helping clean the kitchen. They can also assist with transport to medical appointments or assisting with accessing the community to do things like grocery shopping or attending community events. Registered nurses can help with the administration of medication you may need for your health conditions or eye disease. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel your eyesight is impacting your independence and enjoyment of life!
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. “Vision Problems in Older Australians, Summary.” Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, www.aihw.gov.au/reports/eye-health/vision-problems-in-older-australians/summary.
- Better Health Channel. “Eye Tests – Better Health Channel.” Www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/eye-tests#types-of-eye-tests. Accessed 27 Sept. 2022.
- Green, Catherine, et al. “Eye Care in the Elderly.” Australian Family Physician Journal, vol. 43, no. 7, July 2014, pp. 447–450.
- Optometry Australia. “Ageing Population Demands Eye Health Investment.” Optometry Australia, 8 Apr. 2022, www.optometry.org.au/advocacy_government/ageing-population-demands-eye-health-investment/#:~:text=We%20know%20that%20poor%20eyesight. Accessed 27 Sept. 2022.