The Unaging Eye – Getting Older Doesn’t Have to Mean Losing Your Vision
By Alison Dinong
Published on August 09, 2007
First, it became more difficult for you to see the road clearly while driving at night. Then, as you read the newspaper each morning, the text seemed as if it were becoming smaller and fuzzier. And the last time you went out for dinner, you blamed the dim lights for your inability to read the menu.
These changes in your vision are not occurring by coincidence; rather, they reflect an inevitable evolutionary rule. Whether we like it or not, our vision diminishes with age.
"These are not things that kill you, but they really affect your lifestyle, and as people become visually impaired, they lose their independence," said Dr. Joan Miller of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Changes in vision have always been among the surest signs of aging; however, due to advances in eye care, your vision no longer has to deteriorate with age.
“Age-related eye diseases do not have to lead to vision loss or blindness,” said Dr. Richard C. Edlow, O.D., chairman of the American Optometric Association Information and Data Committee.
That’s because advances in vision correction technology have created a fountain of youth for the eyes, enabling people suffering from age-related conditions such as presbyopia, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration to save their sight.
This means that millions of aging baby boomers and older individuals can now turn back the clock if they wish, at least in terms of their vision.
One particularly impressive technological advance is laser eye surgery, which has allowed for significant improvements in the treatment of several progressive eye disorders. For instance, lasers can now be used in the treatment of glaucoma, which is currently the leading cause of blindness. The disease alters the way in which the eye’s natural fluids are produced and drained, leading to a situation similar to a clogged pipe. This clog raises the pressure of the inner eye, which damages the optic nerve and causes vision loss.
However, vision loss from glaucoma can be slowed down or even prevented through trabeculoplasty surgery. In this procedure, a laser beam is used to create a small cut in the eye to promote better drainage and relieve intraocular pressure. As a result, damage to the optic nerve is minimized, and patients are more likely to retain their vision.
Laser eye surgery can also be performed to treat an age-related eye condition called macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in people aged 65 and older and occurs when light-sensing cells in the retina begin to deteriorate. This causes the eye to form blood vessels that leak fluid and damage the retina, creating blind spots in central vision over time.
Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, laser eye surgery provides an effective treatment option. The laser beam used during surgery seals off leaking blood vessels and destroys new, unhealthy blood vessels, preventing the disease from robbing individuals of sight.
Another common age-related eye condition that can now be more easily treated through the use of advanced vision technology is cataracts. A cataract occurs when the eye’s natural lens becomes clouded with protein buildup, resulting in blurred vision. The condition is common among people over the age of 50, but can easily be treated with intraocular lens (IOL) vision correction surgery.
During the procedure, the clouded lenses are replaced with IOLs inserted through a small incision in the eye. Popular IOL brands like ReSTOR®, ReZoom™, and crystalens® are so powerful that many patients no longer need to rely on glasses and contacts to see clearly after surgery.
IOL surgery is also sometimes used to treat presbyopia, one of the most common eye conditions among people over the age of 40. It is estimated that 90 million baby boomers suffer from the condition, in which the chronic hardening of the eye’s lens results in a reliance upon reading glasses for near vision.
"Presbyopia is the one inescapable vision disorder that will eventually affect us all," said University of Kansas associate clinical professor Dr. Daniel S. Durrie. "The frustration many people feel with the on-again, off-again annoyance of reading glasses cannot be overemphasized.”
Although IOLs do not offer a cure to presbyopia, multifocal lenses such as crystalens™ can restore some clarity to vision across a range of distances. Patients may become less dependent on glasses, even if they still require them for some activities.
Presbyopic individuals can also undergo conductive keratoplasty (CK) surgery, in which radio waves are used to reshape the cornea. NearVision® CK® is one of the newest forms of refractive surgery and among the most popular vision correction procedures for millions of baby boomers today. It is also the only FDA-approved treatment for presbyopia.
The three-minute procedure utilizes radio waves to reshape the cornea and improve vision. Patients who undergo CK treatment often find they are no longer dependent on corrective eyewear.
"NearVision® CK® is a non-invasive procedure, with no cutting or removal of tissue, making it one of the safest vision procedures available today. The procedure offers a terrific option for baby boomers that are frustrated wearing reading glasses to see everyday items like their cell phone, a newspaper or restaurant menu and their computer screen," said Patricia Kwan, Director of Marketing, Refractec, Inc.
Thanks to these advances in vision correction, getting older doesn’t mean your vision necessarily has to become worse.