Vision and Aging: A Growing Concern for Older Adults - Eye Health Resources for Older Adults

Millions of Americans over 40 have age-related vision issues, some of which can make them dependent on others as they age. Early treatment can be helpful, and numerous resources are available for those with vision issues.

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Vision and Aging: A Growing Concern for Older Adults - Eye Health Resources for Older Adults
6 Min Read June 25th, 2024

Imagine waking up to a world that slowly fades into a blur, where familiar faces and everyday objects become increasingly difficult to recognize. A decline in vision is a reality for many older adults as they grapple with significant eye issues that can drastically alter their quality of life.

According to the National Eye Institute, over 24 million Americans aged 40 and older have cataracts, a number expected to double by 2050. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 3 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in older adults. These conditions highlight the increasing prevalence of vision problems among older adults and their potential impact on daily living.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is another significant concern, affecting nearly 2 million people over the age of 50 in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss among older adults, drastically impacting their ability to perform everyday tasks such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces.

This loss of independence can lead to a greater reliance on caregivers and family members, increasing the emotional and financial burden on loved ones.

The implications of vision loss extend beyond mere inconvenience; they can lead to severe consequences such as falls, depression, and social isolation. Vision impairment can significantly limit mobility and increase the risk of accidents, further exacerbating the dependency that comes with aging.

Since your eyes are the windows to the world, caring for them isn’t always easy. Many things can go wrong with your peepers over time. However, practicing the right prevention can keep your vision sharper at any age.

What eye health resources can older adults and their families access as they age? Add these resources to your address book so you can have them when needed.

What Should Older Adults Know About Eye Health?

Problems with your vision affect every aspect of your life. They impact your driving ability, often impeding your independence. Plus, you want to see the joy on your grandchildren’s faces, which means protecting your eye health.

However, damage from free radicals from UV exposure, pollutants, stress, and toxins impacts your peepers. As a result, you become more susceptible to multiple disorders.

What Eye Health Conditions Often Affect Older Adults?

Eye disorders typically affecting older adults include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal detachment

The conditions above are most likely to disrupt your independence. However, you also become more prone to nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Additionally, you may get more floaters and flashes of light or experience dry or watery eyes.

How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam?

According to the American Optometric Association, adults 65 and older should have an eye exam once per year or more often if they’re at risk. For example, many people with diabetes require more frequent monitoring if they develop retinopathy. Those younger than 65 can get away with an exam every two years if they’re not at risk but should follow their physician’s advice on timing and frequency.

Barriers to Eye Health

Unfortunately, eyes and teeth are outliers in the American healthcare system. Most commercial insurers don’t cover them, except for a separate policy. Medicare doesn’t cover your annual exam, although you may invest in a supplement that does. This lack of coverage begs the question “Why?,” especially given how crucial eyesight is to a modern world that requires driving and working on computers.

The answer lies in business history, not medical reality. Originally, barbers pulled teeth, and artisans made glasses. As various labor organizations negotiated with employers during the early days of benefits packages, leaders treated the three groups separately. Coverage still hasn’t evolved, even though science now tells how your mouth affects your overall health, and clear vision is essential to carry out many tasks without injury.

14 Eye Health Resources for Older Adults You Can Bookmark

Many adults struggle with costs because eye care isn’t included in Medicare or traditional health insurance. What can you do if you’re among them?

The following eye health resources for older adults can help you locate the care you need, even if you face economic challenges.

1. Your Family Doctor

Your family doctor is your first point of contact. They often have lists of resources for low-cost or sliding-scale care.

Additionally, although Medicare does not offer routine eye exams for otherwise healthy individuals, it does provide certain services for those with chronic conditions, such as cataracts or glaucoma. However, you’ll need documentation, and your primary care provider may be able to help you qualify.

2. Community Health Centers

Community health centers offer services on a sliding scale to those with financial hardship. Although not all offer eye care services, some do. You can use online tools to find one nearest you.

3. Universities with Optometry or Ophthalmology Programs

Some such facilities offer low-cost care as part of their training programs. Although a student will examine you, they work under the guidance of a qualified, licensed instructor.

4. Independent Providers

What if you live in a rural area that’s prohibitively far from community clinics and universities? You might have luck by talking with local providers, who may work out payment arrangements to make your care more affordable.

5. VSP Vision Eyes of Hope

This program offers disaster relief and no-cost vision care for those who qualify.

6. The American Academy of Ophthalmology

This program offers a free eye exam and a year of care to qualifying adults over 65 at risk for glaucoma.

7. New Eyes

New Eyes works with social service agencies to provide free eyeglasses to eligible adults and children. You must have a prescription dated within the last 24 months.

8. The American Glaucoma Society

The American Glaucoma Society offers free glaucoma surgery to eligible uninsured or underserved adults.

9. The Assistance Fund

The Assistance Fund helps those with rare diseases affecting the eyes and other body parts, including thyroid eye disease and uveitis.

10. HealthWell Foundation

The HealthWell Foundation helps people who have coverage but struggle to afford their copays, premiums, or deductibles.

11. Lions Club International

The Lions Club offers financial assistance, including free glasses and eye care in some cases.

12. Mission Cataract USA

This organization provides free cataract surgery to qualifying patients without insurance.

13. New Eyes for the Needy

This service provides a free pair of glasses or bifocals to those who have had an exam but lack resources for corrective lenses.

14. OneSight’s Eyeglass Referral Program

This program also provides a free pair of glasses via a referral system.

Online Eye Health Resources for Older Adults

If you’re savvy with a computer, you can get an evaluation for glasses online, although contact lenses still require a doctor’s visit. Please note that such services do not replace a comprehensive eye exam — they do not evaluate you for cataracts, glaucoma, or other age-related visual problems. However, they’re ideal when you break your last pair of specs and haven’t gotten around to a standard appointment.

Eye Health Resources for Older Adults

Taking care of your vision becomes increasingly important with age. These eye health resources for older adults help you meet this crucial need regardless of your ability to pay.

Taking care of your vision prevents disease, empowers you to take early interventions if problems arise, and increases your chances of seeing your beautiful grandchildren clearly.

Vision Problems and the Need for Long-Term Care

As you age, vision difficulties can significantly impact your ability to live independently, creating a need for long-term care. Conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can make daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, cooking, cleaning, and managing medications challenging.

This decline in vision often necessitates additional support from in-home caregivers or placement in assisted living or nursing home facilities. According to the National Institute on Aging, vision impairment often requires extra help to manage daily activities and maintain quality of life.

Moreover, vision loss increases your risk of falls and injuries. The CDC reports that falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults, with vision impairment being a significant factor. Receiving appropriate care and supervision through long-term care services can reduce these risks and provide a safer living environment.

Find quality caregivers for older loved ones by using the LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory - Find Quality Long-Term Care Services Near You.

The emotional impact of vision loss is also profound, often leading to feelings of isolation and depression. Long-term care facilities address these emotional needs through social activities, counseling, and support groups, ensuring a holistic approach to your well-being, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.

By incorporating physical and emotional support, long-term care services help you maintain a better quality of life despite vision impairments. It all starts by being proactive with your health and vision now, before you grow older.

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About the Author

Beth Rush writes about various health and wellness topics, helping readers learn how to make healthy lifestyle choices and better enjoy their lives.

LTC News Contributor Beth Rush

Beth Rush

Contributor since August 9th, 2023

Editor's Note

As you plan for retirement, it's crucial to consider the potential costs and burdens of aging. Proactive planning can help maintain your quality of life and independence as you grow older. One essential component of this planning is Long-Term Care Insurance.

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By integrating Long-Term Care Insurance into your retirement plan, you can prepare for the unexpected and ensure a secure and comfortable future for both you and your family.

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