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Helping Older Adults Live Well with Age-Related Vision Loss


An old adult at an annual eye appointment—these are essential to receiving an accurate diagnosis

Changes in vision are common in older adults. According to statistics from the American Foundation for the Blind, over 6.1 million Americans aged 65 and older experience some form of vision loss. Loss of vision can be overwhelming for a loved one, especially since it can affect many different parts of life from the ability to drive safely to being able to take part in hobbies like reading or doing jigsaw puzzles. However, thanks to improved treatments and assistive devices, there are options we can explore to make it much easier for loved ones to preserve as much of their vision as possible and continue to live safely and independently at home.

As caregivers, we can encourage our loved one to visit an ophthalmologist at least once a year for a complete eye examination to keep their eyes as healthy as possible. We can also work with loved ones to make home and lifestyle changes that will keep them safe, comfortable and independent, and preserve their remaining vision for as long as possible.
First, though, it’s important to understand the different types of vision issues older adults commonly encounter.

Types of age-related vision loss

Common age-related vision disorders include:

  • Cataracts. These are the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, and also one of the most easily treated. Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye that gradually cause blurred or reduced vision. Cataracts are easily treated with surgical replacement of the clouded lens with a new artificial one. After the procedure, most people report greatly improved vision.
  • Age-related macular degeneration. This condition damages the eye’s central vision and affects the ability to see objects clearly, drive or read. The condition develops gradually, and most people find out that they have it during a routine eye exam. Although there is no cure for the disease, treatments are available to slow the disease’s process and improve vision.
  • Glaucoma. This condition increases fluid pressure within the eye and causes damages to its nerves. Like macular degeneration, this disease also has few symptoms in the early stages and is usually diagnosed during an eye checkup. Although it cannot be cured, it can be treated with prescription eye drops or surgery.
  • Diabetic retinopathy. This condition is a diabetes complication which increases growth of abnormal new blood vessels that block the flow of blood to the retina—the part of the eye that receives and organizes visual information. Like other eye diseases developed later in life, it has few noticeable symptoms in the early stages and cannot be cured. However, the condition can be treated with laser surgery, which can keep symptoms from getting worse. Good diabetes care and managing blood sugar levels lower the risk of developing this disease.

Age-related vision loss can develop gradually, and many older adults aren’t aware that they don’t see as well as they used to. They may notice that colors aren’t as bright; reading is more difficult, especially small print in newspapers, webpages or prescription bottles; or that their night vision is poor

To help identify and diagnosis problems as soon as possible, we should encourage older loved ones to have an annual eye exam to receive an accurate diagnosis. Although cures are not always available for certain eye diseases, there may be treatments that can work to improve a loved one’s vision. 

Home safety tips for people with vision loss

According to research, older adults with poor vision are 1.7 times more likely to fall and 1.9 times more likely experience multiple falls than older adults without vision problems. Many eye disorders affect depth perception, peripheral vision, the ability to distinguish objects and the ability to see in the dark. To prevent these dangerous falls, we should take a tour of a loved one’s living space, or any place where they spend extend amount of time, and make modifications to make it safer.

For a safer home, look into the placement and stability of:

  • Throw rugs
  • Electrical cords
  • Household clutter
  • Furniture
  • Stairs

Safety features to consider installing include:

  • Nightlights throughout the house
  • Telephones and clocks with large numbers
  • Grab bars in bathrooms
  • Strips of colored tape on the edges of steps (indoors and out) to make them easier to see
  • Motion lights that turn on automatically when someone enters a room

Low vision aids

A variety of low vision products and services are available to help older adults with vision disorders live as independently as possible. Useful low vision aides include:

  • Magnifiers that allow those with low vision to use a computer, sew, knit or read
  • Large print dictionaries, cookbooks, globes and maps
  • Calculators, clocks, radios and timers with large easy-to-see numbers
  • Canes, walkers and other mobility aids to prevent falls
  • Magnifying screens for TVs and computers
  • Low vision playing cards, Bingo boards and other board games
  • Audible medication reminders and scales
  • Voice technology supported or large-print home blood sugar meters to help people with diabetes see blood sugar test results clearly.
  • Large print calendars and organizers.

These and other useful low vision tools are available at pharmacies, medical supply stores or on the Internet. A loved one’s ophthalmologist may also recommend other devices.

Many libraries now have collections of large print or recorded books for people with low vision that include the latest mysteries, novels and non-fiction books, along with classic novels and poetry. If a loved one enjoys reading, we can visit the library with them and help them choose reading materials.

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Suggested Reads

Caring for an Older Loved One with Macular Degeneration

Guiding a Loved One Through Cataract Surgery

Understanding Glaucoma: A Guide for Caregivers of Older Adults