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October 18, 2018

Older Adults are Skipping Eye Exams: Why That's a Bad Idea

According to a poll conducted by the University of Michigan and the AARP, 18 percent of people aged 50 and up have not seen an optometrist or ophthalmologist in at least three years or were not sure when they’d had their last eye exam. 

When looking at that population of older adults, more than 40 percent said they hadn’t gone to an eye doctor because they weren’t experiencing any vision problems. Other reasons stated included the cost of the exam—or because they just hadn’t gotten around to making the appointment.

But, is skipping eye exams really a good idea?

Eye doctors point out dangers with that strategy, which include that many eye diseases don’t offer up early warning signs—but can be diagnosed during an eye exam. And, vision loss involves much more than losing the ability to see as well as before. It can affect the overall health of an older adult, increasing the risk of falling and reducing social interactions and overall quality of life.

The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye exams for everyone over the age of 60, as well as for anyone who notices vision changes. They also list eye diseases that are important to be aware of, including:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): This disease affects the center of the retina, the macula. The macula is small, but important, as it allows us to see colors and fine details, the latter being important for driving, reading, television watching, recognizing people and more. With this condition, your peripheral vision is not affected. The National Eye Institute shares ways to help prevent AMD, including:
    • Don’t smoke. If you do, stop.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Eat a healthy diet, including fish and green, leafy vegetables.
    • Maintain a normal blood pressure.
    • Maintain good cholesterol levels.
  • Cataracts: These can cause blurry vision and increase your sensitivity to glare. They can also dull your ability to see colors. They usually develop in both eyes, although one eye may be worse than the other. The National Eye Institute notes that smoking and diabetes can be causes of cataracts, although people may simply get them because lens protein changes over the years.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: As the name indicates, this is an eye disease that can occur if someone has diabetes. What happens is that blood vessels that nourish the retina became progressively damaged, eventually leaking blood and fluids, causing retinal tissue to swell. This usually affects both eyes and clouds a person’s vision.
  • Glaucoma: In this disease, optic nerve damage causes vision loss. Over time, this can affect peripheral vision, too. Risk factors include a family history and being African American.
  • Retinal detachment: This is when the retina separates from underlying tissue and happens when the vitreous fluid in the back of the eye changes. Or, it can happen because of eye or head trauma, as a result of diabetes or because of an inflammatory eye disease. This must be treated promptly to prevent permanent loss of vision.

This is not a comprehensive list of eye disorders, but it is a listing of some of the most common diseases—and it shows why it’s important for older adults to see an eye doctor on an annual basis.

If you need to look for a new eye doctor, WebMD.com offers suggestions on how to find the best one for your needs. Often, you can simply ask for recommendations from your doctor, as well as from family and friends. Or, you can use the search tools on the websites of the American Academy of Ophthalmology or the American Optometric Association.

After you’ve seen the doctor, evaluate your wait time, how complete the exam felt, how well your doctor listened and answered questions, and how comfortable you felt, overall. Because your eye health is so important, it’s crucial to find the right doctor.


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