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Eyesight health tips for elderly

The NHS has some great tips to help your elderly parents and friends look after their eyesight health as they get older. Because our eyesight changes as we get older, almost all of us will need to wear glasses or contact lenses by the time we’re 65.

If your parents have regular eye tests, wear the right lenses and look after their eyes, there’s a better chance their eyesight will remain clear.

Have regular eye tests

An eye test is not just good for checking whether their glasses are up to date. It’s also a vital check on the health of their eyes. An eye test can pick up eye diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts, as well as general health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

The good news is that if they’re 60 or over, they can have a free NHS eye test every two years. They can have a free test every year if they’re 70 or over. Despite this, a 2011 survey from Age UK showed that nearly 2 million people over 60 did not take advantage of free eye tests in the previous two years.

If your parent can’t leave home because of illness or disability, they can have an NHS eye test at home. Contact their usual optician to find out if they can visit you at home. Otherwise, NHS England will have a list of opticians in your area that do home visits. Contact NHS England on 0300 311 22 3 or email [email protected] 0845.

Wear the right lenses

An eye test will establish whether they need a different prescription for their glasses or contact lenses.

It’s important to wear the correct prescription lenses. This will improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of accidents such as falls.

According to Age UK’s research, poor vision was a factor in 270,000 falls in people over the age of 60 in the previous two years.

Your parent may be entitled to help with the cost of NHS glasses or contact lenses, so ask the optician about this.

How to maintain your eyesight health

  • Eat well. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for eyes. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit will benefit overall health and may help protect against some conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD, see below).
  • Wear sunglasses. Strong sunlight can damage your eyes and may increase the risk of cataracts. Encourage your parents to wear sunglasses or contact lenses with a built-in UV filter to protect their eyes from harmful rays.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking can increase their chances of developing conditions such as cataracts and AMD.
  • Stay a healthy weight. Being overweight increases risk of diabetes, which can lead to sight loss.
  • Use good lighting. To see well, eyes need three times as much light when you’re 60 as they did when you were 20. Increase the daylight in your parents’ home by keeping windows clean and curtains pulled back. Make sure they have good electric lighting too, especially at the top and bottom of stairs so you can see the steps clearly. For reading or close work, use a direct light from a flexible table lamp, positioned so the light is not reflected by the page and causing glare.
  • Exercise. Good circulation and oxygen intake are important for eye health. Both of these are stimulated by regular exercise.
  • Sleep well. As you sleep, your eyes are continuously lubricated and irritants, such as dust or smoke, that may have accumulated during the day are cleared out.

Eye problems as we get older

  • Difficulty reading. Eye muscles start to weaken from the age of 45. It’s a natural ageing process of the eye that happens to us all. By 60, most people need separate reading glasses or an addition to prescription lenses (bifocals or varifocals).
  • Floaters. These tiny specks or spots that float across vision are normally harmless. If they persist, it’s a good idea to see an optician as they may be a sign of an underlying health condition.
  • Cataracts. Easily detected in an eye test, this gradual clouding of the eye’s lens is extremely common in over-60s. A simple operation can restore sight.
  • Glaucoma. This is related to an increase in pressure in the eye that leads to damage of the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Left untreated, glaucoma leads to tunnel vision and, ultimately, blindness. However, if it’s detected early enough, these complications can usually be avoided with eye drops.
  • Macular degeneration. This is a disease of the retina caused by ageing. The retina is the nerve tissue lining the back of your eye. There are two types of macular degeneration. The first type, called dry macular degeneration, gets worse very slowly. The other type gets worse very quickly. This needs to be seen as an emergency in a hospital eye unit for prompt treatment.

For lots more information go to the NHS website.

And if you have any questions for others in a similar situation or if you would like to share your own experience, join the Age Space Forum.