Blind World

Aging and Vision.
Seeing Better.

February 27, 2004.

By Jen Christensen,

The ability to see objects clearly is known as visual acuity. As we age, the eyes undergo some changes that can affect visual acuity. The most common problem associated with aging eyes is presbyopia – a loss of the ability of the lens to quickly change focus between distant and near objects. Most people begin to notice subtle changes in focusing adaptation in their 40s, when they begin to have problems reading fine print up close. Some people also experience headaches or eyestrain when reading or performing close up tasks.

Aging eyes have lower contrast sensitivity. Contrast is the ability to differentiate between a dark-on-light image or a light-on-dark image. Printed letters appear blurred on the edges. The ability to discriminate textures and patterns may be less “crisp.” Color perception declines, especially in color hues that are close together on the color spectrum, like blues and greens or reds and oranges. Aging also typically brings a reduction in depth perception – the ability to determine the closeness of an object.

Light can create problems for aging eyes. Many people become sensitive to glare. A common problem is a driver’s inability to see clearly after viewing bright oncoming headlights. Another problem, night blindness, is characterized by the inability to see in dimly lit environments.

Older people can develop eye conditions that further decrease visual acuity. Some common eye diseases include cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye), macular degeneration (degeneration of the area of the retina responsible for clear, central vision), diabetic retinopathy (development of abnormal, leaky blood vessels under the retina) and glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve).

Reducing Problems.

Even in the absence of eye disease (like glaucoma or cataract), decreased visual acuity can still cause eyestrain, headaches, “tired eyes” and difficulty with concentration. But there are some simple things that can be done to optimize the environment for visual tasks. Check out the levels of light around the house. Different tasks require different levels of lighting. If you find your eyes are getting tired, you may need to use brighter lights. Some types of light bulbs are brighter than others, so you may need to experiment to find the best wattage/type of bulb. Regular dusting of the light bulb is an easy way to increase lamp brightness. Lighter lamp shades provide more light than darker shades. A room painted with lighter colors will also appear brighter and lighter than a darkly painted room. Watch the position of the light (including sunlight) to make sure you don’t get glare or shadows.

Place a light in the closet to improve the ability to differentiate colors. In the kitchen, use a dark colored cutting board to chop light foods (like onions) and a light colored board to chop dark foods (like nuts). If light switches are far away from a room entrance, consider motion detectors that automatically turn on a light when you enter the room.

Eye complaints are common among computer users. Use indirect lighting and an adjustable desk lamp to optimize lighting in the work area. To reduce glare on the screen, tilt the monitor at a slight downward angle to prevent reflection from overhead lights. Be careful of bright sunlight coming through the windows and reflecting off the screen. A glare screen can be installed over the monitor. Sometimes glare can also be reduced with a strip of cardboard extending over the top edge of the monitor.

Give your eyes a break. Don’t stare at the screen for long periods of time. From time to time, look at a far away object to allow your eyes to change focus. People who work at a computer for long stretches also tend to blink less often, causing the eyes to become dry and irritated. Make a conscious effort to blink. If you still find your eyes are irritated and tired, or you get frequent headaches, consult an eye care professional. You may need corrective lenses or a different prescription for viewing a computer monitor.

Finally, have regular eye examinations. An eye care professional can detect signs of medical conditions that can cause problems with vision. In addition, the health care provider can give specific tips to prevent or reduce problems associated reduced visual acuity.

For information and tips about vision problems:

American Academy of Ophthalmology, public website,

American Foundation for the Blind,

American Optometric Association,

National Institute on Aging,

Copyright © 2004, Chelsey Broadcasting.

End of article.

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