As humans grow older, the cells in our bodies deteriorate. As a result, we lose effectiveness in some of our organ functions. One significant loss we usually experience is with our vision. While there are still cases of eye diseases of all ages, the elderly are more vulnerable. We will explore this vulnerability and investigate the correlation between old age and eye diseases. Epidemiological studies will help us understand this correlation on a large scale. We will also look into common eye diseases among the elderly. To help prevent these diseases, we will present the risk factors of eye diseases along with growing older.
How Do Eye Problems Commonly Occur?
The most common eye problems in the United States are refractive errors. This includes nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism, and presbyopia. All of these affect vision when structural problems in the eye occur. The eyeball’s length, the cornea’s shape, and the lens’ age all affect the eyes’ structure. Optometrists can still correct refractive errors through glasses, eye contact, and LASIK surgery.
Refractive errors are present in all ages. However, there are eye problems that statistically occur more in the elderly. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 4.2 million Americans who are 40 years and older have low vision or are legally blind. Additionally, the leading cause of blindness is age-related diseases.
Epidemiology of Common Eye Diseases Among the Elderly
Even as far back as 1987, there has already been documentation on the epidemiology of eye diseases regarding old age. These common diseases include dry eyes, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Epidemiological studies allow us to see the correlation between old age and these eye diseases.
When a person experiences a scratchy and burning sensation in their eyes, they may have dry eyes. This condition occurs when a person does not produce enough tears to make the eye surface moist. According to several studies, the elderly can experience this more than others.
In 1998, a prevalence study in Melbourne, Australia, reported population-based data regarding dry eyes. The researchers administered a questionnaire to 926 people. Results showed that risk factors for eye diseases were biological sex, age, and arthritis.
Two years later, in 2000, researchers examined the landmark study called the Beaver Dam Eye Study conducted in Wisconsin. In their review, they studied 3,722 participants with ages 43 years and above. They saw that people in this age group had dry eyes correlated with smoking, caffeine, and multivitamin use.
Scientists perform a variety of tests to specify symptoms of dry eyes. They used these tests in a 2006 study about features of dry eyes in a Japanese elderly population. From their tests, they concluded that most symptoms include disorders in the tear films. Specifically, the meibomian gland appears to have a dysfunction that secretes oil to the eye’s surface.
Cloudiness in the lens of the eyes may be a sign of cataracts. This disease still is the major cause of blindness as of 2021. The CDC estimates that 20.5 million, or 17.2% of Americans 40 years old and above, have cataracts. Throughout the world, cataracts affect middle and low-income countries.
Scientists are looking for preventive measures as this disease continues to pose a danger worldwide. To lower the possibility of age-related cataracts, researchers suggest keeping some modifiable risk factors in mind. These factors include smoking, ultraviolet light exposure, alcohol, and bad nutritional habits.
This disease results from the buildup of pressure inside your eyes. Because of this, glaucoma can cause eye pain and headaches in its early stages. It is the second leading cause of blindness, next to cataracts.
As of 2020, research estimates that there are 57.5 million people with primary open-angle glaucoma. By 2040, there will be 111.8 million people suffering from glaucoma. Among those at risk of this disease are:
- People who are 60 years old and above
- Those whose family members have a history of glaucoma, steroid use, and diabetes.
- Those with underlying eye problems such as high myopia, a thin central cornea (<5 mm), and eye injuries.
- Those with hypertension.
There are cases of macular degeneration in young people. Thus, we need to specify age-related macular degeneration. It is a disorder that affects the macula, responsible for the fine vision used in reading and driving. The CDC estimates that in 2020, around 2.95 million Americans aged 40 and above would have been affected by age-related macular degeneration.
At its early stages, macular degeneration only has little effect on vision. However, at later stages, it has a detrimental impact on the patient’s quality of life. This visual impairment can lead to senescence. Nevertheless, a study suggests that physical activities are still possible through controlled and less vision-demanding tasks.
The eyes are one of the organs that consume the most oxygen. The blood supplies this oxygen through vessels or arteries. If there are problems in the blood and its vessels, it can also affect the eye. This is why many eye diseases can complicate more than the eyes. Sometimes, it may involve your blood sugar levels in the form of diabetic retinopathy.
From 1994 to 2005, there has been a decrease in the rates of diabetic retinopathy in elderly Americans. Researchers performed this analysis study on data from Medicare beneficiaries. They conclude that this decrease could be due to technological improvements in primary care for diabetes.
As of 2020, the CDC declares that diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults in the United States. Specifically, it mostly affects adults aged 20-74 years old. Moreover, trends in diabetes show that diabetic patients may rise to 642 million by 2040. While having diabetes does not automatically mean you will have retinopathy, you still are at risk of it. Other risks of eye disease include open-angle glaucoma and cataracts.