Prioritize eye health to maintain a healthy and independent life

Many believe vision loss is an inevitable part of ageing, with very few strategies available for prevention and treatment. While one in three Ontarians will have some form of vision-threatening eye disease by age 65, and one in nine seniors will experience irreversible vision loss, the reality is that 80 per cent of vision loss is preventable. 

Under the care of an optometrist, many eye diseases can be managed before permanent vision loss occurs, and other treatments, including rehabilitation, can be implemented when vision loss is not preventable. 

“That’s why regular comprehensive eye exams with an optometrist are so important, especially as we age and become more susceptible to vision-threatening diseases,” said Dr. Susan Leat, a member of the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO). “An optometrist will detect the earliest stages of eye diseases, many of which are symptomless.”

The OAO recommends that seniors receive comprehensive eye exams every year, which are covered by OHIP starting at age 65.

Vision loss, low vision and quality of life 
As we age, conditions that may lead to low vision and vision loss include: 
Presbyopia   
Cataracts 
Diabetic retinopathy 
Macular degeneration
Glaucoma 

These conditions can become a barrier to a healthy and independent life. In fact, vision loss and low vision in seniors can:
- Triple the risk of experiencing clinical depression
- Double the risk of having difficulties with daily living activities
- Double the risk of falling 
- Increase the risk of hip fractures by four times
- Increase errors when taking medication
- Lead to unwanted early retirement and absenteeism
- Cause premature nursing home placement
- Lead to social dependency
- Increase stress in relatives and caregivers due to dependency

Is it too late?

In some cases, seniors who have already started to experience vision loss and low vision will find that nothing can be done to reverse the damage. While this is painful to hear, optometrists can offer a variety of strategies and solutions to help maintain quality of life.

“Thankfully there are options like low vision rehabilitation. This helps people use their remaining vision to continue performing daily tasks independently, and maintain their quality of life,” said Dr. Leat. 

Low vision rehabilitation may include: 
- The use of magnifying devices and special spectacles
- Vision training and the use of alternate strategies
- Modifications to the home to increase accessibility

While ageing is inevitable, it does not necessarily equate to low vision and irreversible vision loss. Likewise, an eye disease diagnosis is not the end of an active lifestyle. Early detection, treatment and medical and technological advancements make it possible to preserve both vision and an active lifestyle. 

 
To find out more visit your local optometrist.

Story by: Shona Skerrett, Communications Intern