By Jane Farrell
There’s no doubt that eye health is crucial for Boomers. A recent survey found that 63 percent of Americans who are 55 and older said that loss of vision would have a “severe negative” effect on their quality of life. And an overwhelming 78 percent said they would rather lose a limb than their eyesight.
So, given that eyesight is so essential to us, what are we doing about keeping our vision its sharpest? As it turns out, not enough. The survey, Bausch & Lomb’s Global Eye Health Barometer, found that 40 percent of 55+ U.S. participants had not gone for an eye exam in the past year. And even those who went may not have done so for the best reason.
“The big problem,” says Dr. James Winnick, of Livermore Optometry Group in Livermore, Calif., “is that people center on how well they are seeing. They don’t go [for an exam] until they think they need a new pair of glasses.”
Instead, Winnick suggests, prospective patients should go for an annual exam in order to check on the state of their eye health in general and to see if their eyes reveal any systemic conditions that need to be treated by a physician. “We need to flip it around,” he says. “Go for your eye health, not just because you need new glasses.”
While there aren’t any eye conditions on the rise among Boomers, the sheer numbers of that generation means that there will be more and more cases of the most common ailments: cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. (“The longer we’re around,” Winnick says, “the more likely we are to develop eye problems.”)
Cataracts - a clouding of the lens of the eye that makes it difficult to see clearly – are easily eliminated through outpatient surgery. Left unchecked, though, blindness can result. Age-related macular degeneration occurs when the macula, tissue that’s part of the retina, deteriorates. And glaucoma, a condition in which there is abnormally high pressure within the eye, is the second leading cause of blindness.
Pressure within the eye can also indicate, Winnick says, conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure that may not have been diagnosed or are being treated inadequately. An exam could also reveal diabetic retinopathy – retinal damaged caused by diabetes. Other conditions that can be uncovered include eye tumors and retinal detachment.
To get the best eye exam possible, Winnick says that your doctor should record your family health history as well as your own health history. Tell your doctor what medicines, vitamins and supplements you may be taking, and be sure to mention any vision problems you’re having. Although eye drops that dilate your pupils can be inconvenient, they help practicioners examine the back of the eye to look for symptoms.
In the Bausch & Lomb survey, 60 percent of respondents over 55 who hadn’t gone for an eye exam in the last year said they hadn’t done so because they didn’t have any symptoms. That’s a bad excuse, though – when it comes to your health, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. And that includes your eyes as well as every other part of your body you’re taking care of.