Senior Health

8/20/2020 | By Annie Tobey

All of our senses are valuable, but our sense of sight is important both practically and emotionally. We use vision to drive, read, work, play sports, and exercise, as well as to see our loved ones and read their expressions, appreciate the beauty of nature, and watch TV, movie, and theatre. Without our vision, we can more easily lose personal independence. Yet Harvard Health Publishing reports that about half of people ages 65 to 74, and 70 percent of those ages 75 and over, develop cataracts – the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Fortunately, experts also have tips for preventing cataracts.

Causes and Effects of Cataracts

As cataracts develop, the protein molecules that are part of the eye’s lens begin to clump together and cloud the lens. Think of it like an egg white: it starts out clear, then becomes cloudy as it cooks. Although cataracts usually form in both eyes, they may not affect both eyes equally.

As cataracts develop, vision becomes cloudy, dim, and blurry, with “halos” around lights, double vision, and increased sensitivity to light and glare. Driving a car (especially at night) becomes more difficult. Reading and other close activities become more challenging and require brighter lights. Colors fade or yellow.

Aging is only one cause of cataracts. Other possible causes include previous eye injury and/or surgery, diabetes, high blood pressure, corticosteroid drugs, genetics, smoking, excessive use of alcohol, hormone therapy, and long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight. A poor diet may also contribute to developing cataracts.

When cataracts progress too far, an eye surgeon can remove the affected lens and replace it with an artificial one. However, given the costs and risks of surgery, taking measures to slow this vision problem should be a first line of defense.

Preventing Cataracts

Cataracts may be inevitable, but experts believe that simple but important actions can be helpful in slowing their progression.

1. Have regular eye examinations. Schedule a professional eye exam for every two years (annually after age 60) to detect cataracts early.

2. Modify harmful lifestyle habits. Since smoking and excessive drinking can contribute to cataract development, eliminating these harmful habits can mitigate the risks.

3. Establish helpful lifestyle habits. Excessive exposure to light is a cause; therefore, wearing hats and sunglasses that block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays helps keep the problem at bay.

4. Manage contributing health issues. Since diabetes and high blood pressure contribute to cataracts, proactive management of these health problems helps allay this vision issue, too. Given the risks of corticosteroid drugs and hormone therapy, carefully examine the pros and cons with your health-care professional before using.

5. Improve your diet. “Studies from the United States, Japan and Sweden show that a diet rich in foods with substances called antioxidants may reduce your risk of developing cataracts,” reports the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Antioxidants include vitamins C and E, flavonoids, and selenium. “While you can take antioxidant supplements in the form of daily pills or capsules, these beneficial vitamins and minerals are best when they come from a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables,” including dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, watercress, and dandelion greens. Green tea helps too!

The best news? All of these measures for preventing cataracts also contribute to a healthy you!

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey