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Poor eyesight and aging

Poor eyesight is not inevitable with age. Some physical changes occur during the normal aging process that can cause a gradual decline in vision, but most older people retain good eyesight into their 80's and beyond.

Older people generally need brighter light for such tasks as reading, cooking, or driving a car. In addition, regular household light bulbs (incandescent bulbs) are better for older eyes than tubular overhead (or fluorescent) lights.


Certain eye disorders and diseases occur more frequently in old age, but a great deal can be done to prevent or correct these conditions. Here are some suggestions for protecting your eyes:

  • Have regular health checkups to detect such treatable diseases as high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which may cause eye problems.
  • Have a complete eye exam every 2 or 3 years since many eye diseases have no early noticeable symptoms. The exam should include a vision (and glasses) evaluation, eye muscle check, check for glaucoma, and an exam looking at the retina through dilated pupils.
  • Seek eye health care more often if you have diabetes or a family history of eye disease. Make plans for care at once if you have signs such as loss or dimness of vision, eye pain, discharged fluids from the eye, double vision, or redness or swelling of the eye or eyelid.


Presbyopia (prez-bee-OH-pee-uh)--a gradual decline in the ability to focus on close objects or to see small print--is common after the age of 40. People with this condition often hold reading materials at arm's length, and some may have headaches or "tired eyes" while reading or doing other close work. There is no known prevention for presbyopia, but the focusing problem can be relieved with glasses.

Floaters are tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision Most people notice them in well-lighted rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Although floaters are normal, they may be a warning of certain eye problems, especially when occurring with light flashes. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes, call your doctor.

Dry eyes occur when the tear glands produce too few tears. The result is itching, burning, or even reduced vision. An eye specialist can prescribe special eyedrop solutions ("artificial tears") to correct the problem.

Excessive tears may be a sign of increased sensitivity to light, wind, or temperature changes. In these cases, protective measures (such as sunglasses) may solve the problem. Tearing may also reflect more serious problems such as an eye infection or a blocked tear duct--both of which can be treated and corrected.

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