Sight is one of our most precious senses. It allows us to appreciate the beauty of the world, see the faces of our loved ones, and function with ease in our daily lives. Unfortunately, as we get older, a natural part of ageing is the weakening of eyesight.
In Australia, there are an estimated 575,000 people who are vision-impaired or blind, and over 70% are over the age of 65.
This is why it’s so important to look after your eyes so you can preserve your vision for longer.
In this article, we will discuss the following:
- What is eye health?
- What are the common eye health problems in older people?
- What can you do to preserve your eyesight for as long as possible?
- What government subsidies are there for eye care?
- Tools for people with vision impairment – Braille & technology.
What is eye health?
Eye health, in a nutshell, is keeping an eye on your eyesight. Very often, people don’t realise their eyesight has worsened because it’s a slow and gradual process. You naturally adapt and only when an optometrist puts a lens in front of your eyes, do you realise how much your vision has weakened.
According to Specsavers, you should get your eyes tested every two years to ensure you have the right prescription and to catch potential eye diseases early.
What are the common eye health problems in older people?
Five conditions that are responsible for about 80% of vision loss in Australia:
This is the degeneration of the retina, which ultimately leads to blindness. There is no cure, but its progress can be slowed and the earlier you catch it, the more chance you have of retaining your vision.
This is a common condition in people over 60 and is when the lens of the eye begins to cloud over. It’s easily fixed with an operation.
This is a condition that is brought on by diabetes and causes your eyesight to fade and weaken.
This is where increased pressure in the eye can damage the optic nerve that connects your eye to your brain. It can be treated if you catch it early.
This is when your eyes can’t focus clearly and is often a result of age. The different types of refractive errors are presbyopia, hyperopia, myopia and astigmatism.
What can you do to preserve your eyesight for as long as possible?
It’s not all bad news for your eyesight as you get older. There are things you can do to give your eyes every chance of seeing clearly for longer.
Get regular eye tests
Eye tests will not only ensure you have the right prescription but can pick up on any eye diseases early.
Here are some signs to look out for that might tell you it’s time for an eye test:
- Dry, red, itchy eyes
- Seeing spots, floaters or flashes of light
- Getting dizzy or motion sick
- Having headaches, blurred vision or feeling strain in the eyes
- Having to hold things at odd angles, distances or close one eye to read them
Wear protective sunglasses
UV-A and UV-B rays can do irreparable damage to the eyes. Be sure to invest in sunglasses that block out 99-100% of these rays.
Wash your hands well before you touch your eyes
Wash your hands thoroughly before using contact lenses to prevent any eye infections. If you have itchy eyes, ask a pharmacist about eye drops and avoid rubbing your eyes with your fingers.
Smoking increases your risk of age-related eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
A healthy diet that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect you from eye disease. A healthy diet should also keep your body weight moderated and so decrease your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, which can both lead to eyesight issues.
Light your home well
When you’re 60, your eyes need 3x as much light to see well as they did when you were 20. Ensure you have lots of natural light in your home and potential trip hazards are well lit. For reading, use a lamp directly over your page, so you can see it clearly.
It may seem unrelated to your eyes, but it can prevent diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, all of which definitely can have an effect on your eyesight.
What government subsidies are there for eye care?
Medicare covers people under 65 for an eye test by an optometrist every three years, and those over 65 for an eye test every year. The caveat is you need to be an Australian permanent resident and go to an optometrist that bulk bills. If you go to one that doesn’t bulk bill, you will need to pay the gap and Medicare usually covers about 85% of the cost of the consultation.
The NSW Spectacle Program offers subsidised spectacles to eligible people. To be eligible, amongst other things, you need to either be a Centrelink recipient or a low wage earner.
Tools for people with vision impairment – old and new technology
There is one system that has been helping those who are considered legally blind for over a century, and that is Braille.
Do you know where Braille came from? Well, we actually have Napolean to thank for kicking it off. He charged one Mr Charles Barbier with developing a system by which his military units could communicate without speaking. Barbier came up with the method of imprinting letters on paper using a knife. This was then passed on to the Royal Institute for Blind Youths in Paris, where none other than a young Louis Braille was studying. Braille took Barbier’s system, worked on it for nine years and developed a much more efficient system that we know today as Braille.
Technology to improve vision is constantly being created and developed.
Here is some new technology that is helpful to people with vision impairments:
On your mobile device, you should have voice-activated assistants like Siri. You can ask it questions and get audible answers without having to read.
Smart home devices like Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home also allow you to do things like check the weather, set timers, ask questions, and listen to music purely by talking to the device.
This is a little camera you mount to your glasses that can read any printed text in the vicinity. So, if you’re at a restaurant and need to read the menu, the device will read it to you via a discreet earpiece. It can also recognise faces and identify products.
This is a smart cane that connects to the GPS navigation on your phone so that when you are walking, you can listen to the directions. It will also detect obstacles in your path that are above chest level and vibrate to alert you.
Many digital devices have built-in magnifiers. Kindle, for example, allows you to make the text as big as you need to see it clearly. Most mobile devices have magnifying software as well.
As we get older, changes in our bodies are inevitable, but that doesn’t need to leave us incapacitated. There are things you can do to help maintain your vision for longer. And the silver lining is that new technologies are constantly being developed to make the lives of people with existing vision impairments easier and help them to maintain their independence for longer.