Blindness and Baby Boomers

Blindness and Baby Boomers

By the year 2030, twice as many Americans will be blind as today. Learn how to detect and treat the four most serious age-related vision problems.

Baby boomers beware! You could be headed for vision problems and possible blindness. According to the National Eye Institute, as the nation ages, more Americans than ever before are facing blindness from eye disease. More than six million seniors have vision loss, as do another nine million people age 45 to 64. Baby boomers will start turning 65 between 2011 and 2030. It is estimated that by 2030, the number of aging Americans with severe vision loss will double.

So how do you fight back? Early detection is your best defense against four age-related eye diseases.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a disease caused by elevated pressure inside the eye. This pressure damages the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. This damage can lead to reduced vision and in time to blindness.

At least half of those who have glaucoma do not know it. Vision loss is not noticed until a lot of nerve damage has occurred. It can be detected by an eye exam, though, and timely diagnosis and treatment can slow or halt vision loss. Once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored.

Cataracts

Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness worldwide. If we live long enough, most of us will develop a cataract, a clouding of the eye’s lens that blocks light from passing to the retina. Cataracts cause blurring or dimming of eyesight. They can also cause double vision and a film over the eye. Like glaucoma, cataracts cause no symptoms at first, but they can also be detected during an eye exam.

The good news with cataracts – unlike other eye diseases – is that eyesight can be restored through surgery, which has a 95 percent success rate.

Macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in Americans age 60 and over. The retina, in the back of the eye, contains photoreceptors that respond to light. The most sensitive part of the retina is the macula. AMD occurs when fluid leaks under the macula from abnormal blood vessels growing beneath the macula. This can cause vision problems that can quickly turn into permanent central vision loss. You rarely lose all your vision from AMD, but many with this disease are classified as legally blind.

AMD develops slowly and you may not notice a decrease in vision for months or years. The disease can be detected by your doctor in an eye exam, though. So, regular eye exams are the best way to safeguard your vision. Some treatments can slow down AMD, but they are not likely to restore normal vision once damage has occurred. These treatments include macular surgery, drug injections and laser therapy.

Diabetic retinopathy

Half of all Americans with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy. This is a complication of diabetes that damages the blood vessels of the retina. It can appear shortly after the diagnosis of diabetes in adults or after many years later if you had diabetes in childhood.

As with glaucoma and AMD, people in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy don’t usually notice any symptoms. A more severe stage of the disease, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow into the retina. Over time this can lead to vision loss.

Ophthalmologists advise that people with diabetes have regular eye exams through dilated pupils. This lets the doctor take a close look at your retina. Your doctor can tell you how often you should get this exam. Good control of blood sugar levels helps to slow the onset and progression of retinopathy. Early laser treatment can stabilize vision, but may not improve it.

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