Healthy aging is a process, not an outcome. Unfortunately, attitudes about aging and accepting poor health outcomes as inevitable with getting older often preclude early detection and treatment efforts that are critical for aging healthfully with good vision. While the aging eye is susceptible to a myriad of diseases that can affect sight and, while the mature eye undergoes many changes that can affect the refractive state of the eye and its function with impacts to one’s ability to see clearly, with the right interventions, loss of sight and its consequences do not have to be accepted as inevitable with advancing age.
Vision loss has a high correlation to many other costly chronic health conditions – particularly many that increase in prevalence with age. Coordinating studies from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and others indicate that older adults with untreated poor vision are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, mental health issues, including depression and social isolation, and dementia. Visual impairment and vision loss come with other serious health risks, including: injury or death from falls, costly chronic conditions, diminished mental and emotional health due to loss of independence or ability to engage in personal hobbies or exercise, and social isolation and loneliness.
Early detection, treatment, and consistent follow-up care to the aging eye are important aspects of aging with good vision and avoiding preventable vision loss and blindness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that diagnosis and early treatment could prevent a majority of visual impairment and blindness in the U.S. More can be done, however, to improve policies that address the aging population’s vision and eye health needs by mobilizing programmatic action right where seniors need it most: in their daily lives, communities, and homes. This remains the focus of Prevent Blindness advocacy, in addition to advocating that aging health policy ensures adults with age-related vision issues are connected to available necessary community services and assistance programs that can help them adapt to their changing vision and age healthfully.
- A Life Course of Healthy Vision: A Critical Priority for the 21st Century – Global Coalition on Aging Brief
Elderly falls can set off a cascade of deteriorating health impacts and significant cost, making their prevention an essential aspect of aging health. While elderly falls can also occur due to a number of reasons unrelated to vision, several well-characterized visual functions, including uncorrected or poorly corrected visual acuity, lack of contrast sensitivity, and decreased visual field loss, are all strongly associated with fall risk. Interventions that do not assess a patient’s visual function and risk of blinding eye disease and refer patients to needed eye care represent a missed opportunity to prevent falls before they occur. In addition, home modification interventions that do not assess hazards such as poor lighting perpetuate an unnecessary risk environment for preventable falls.