More than 28 million Americans over age 40 have eye ailments that put them at risk for vision loss and blindness, researchers say, warning that the numbers will surge as the population ages. As you get older, you may find that your ability decreases to do many of the things you used to take for granted, including the ability to read fine print. The 40-and-over crowd is finding that their arms are "growing shorter" as words become difficult to see up close, and they must hold small items at arm's length in order to be able to view them clearly.
Called presbyopia, this condition occurs as your eyes gradually lose their ability to focus on objects in the near range. But this generation has more choices than their parents ever did when it comes to near vision correction. Reading glasses are a popular option. With all sorts of styles and colors, 40-somethings can have a pair for every room in the house. And they work great as an adjunct to contact lenses.
For some of you, segmented spectacle lenses, or multifocals with lines, serve a specific purpose. Other presbyopes are flocking to no-line bifocals, or progressive lenses, in droves now that there's no need to reveal to the world that one is a bifocal wearer. These lenses have more going for them than just good looks, though. They enable you to see at all distances, from far away to up close, similar to the way that a person who doesn't need vision correction focuses.
You may perform certain tasks at home or at work (such as pilots, sculptors, and mechanics) and may need special-purpose multifocal lenses. One example is a lens with a near-focus segment in the top half. Read about these occupational lens designs that aid in focusing, at the same time reducing eyestrain. Another modern option is bifocal contact lenses, which offer the convenience of contacts along with the ability to see up close as well as far away. Bifocal contacts are in wide use today, as are monovision fits, in which one eye primarily sees things in the distance, and the other eye focuses on things up close.
Many people are interested in surgery for presbyopia as well. While most of these surgeries are still in investigational stages, a few are available now. The surgeries don't have a lot in common, part of the reason being that doctors disagree about what causes presbyopia. The different surgeries treat different possible causes. Some, such as monovision LASIK and conductive keratoplasty (CK), can work well for you regardless of the cause. If you're presbyopic, you have plenty of vision correction choices. Read more about them now, or visit your eyecare practitioner to find the right one for you.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide and the number one cause of poor vision in the United States, affecting an estimated 20.5 million American adults. That number is expected to climb to 30.1 million in the next 20 years, researchers say.
Other major causes of blindness and vision loss are macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. All are strongly linked with aging.
If you have worn glasses or contact lenses in early adulthood, you were able to focus normally for close tasks through the same prescription that you used to see clearly in the distance. However, a person nearing 40 and beyond will notice that near tasks are increasingly difficult through that same prescription. You may find yourself sitting back farther from your reading material or computer, or using brighter light to see more clearly. For some, removing their glasses allows for better vision up close. At this stage, your eye doctor may prescribe a bifocal in your glasses or suggest reading glasses in addition to your contacts. Essentially, your eyes need separate prescriptions for far and near.
Macular degeneration involves damage to the macula, the center of the retina at the back of the eye. About 1.8 million adults are affected, researchers say. In some cases, light-sensitive cells in the macula break down, gradually impairing vision. In others, leaky new blood vessels form behind the retina and cause vision loss. Treatments include lasers or laser-activated drugs, and recent studies have shown that high doses of antioxidant vitamins can help slow or even prevent vision loss in macular degeneration.
Glaucoma affects about 2.2 million adults in the United States. It usually involves a build-up of fluid that normally bathes the eye, causing pressure that damages the optic nerve. Treatment includes eye drops and surgery. Diabetic retinopathy, which involves eye damage resulting from blood vessels weakened by diabetes, affects about 4 million American adults. Laser therapy, surgery and better control of diabetes are among the treatments that you will find available.
From the National Eye Institute: March 20, 2002--Washington, DC -- More Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from age-related eye disease, a new report says. Over one million Americans aged 40 and over are currently blind and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
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