September is Healthy Aging Month. Here are steps you can take to maintain your vision as you age.
Loss of vision as we age is often treated as a foregone conclusion. After all, it’s rare to meet an elderly person with perfect 20–20 vision. However, the assumptions about aging and eye health also miss an important point: that while our vision may get worse as we age, we can also take steps to slow that deterioration and even prevent the worst outcomes.
Eye conditions that develop and worsen as we age:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Dry eyes
While these conditions are serious, they are treatable—especially when detected early. They’re also not inevitable. You can reduce your chances of developing these diseases, or slow their progression, through your own lifestyle choices. Here are six steps you can take to protect your vision as you age.
1. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and quit smoking.
Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals essential for maintaining eye health. These include Vitamin A, typically found in orange vegetables like sweet potatoes or carrots, Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, strawberries, and tomatoes, and Vitamin E, which is present in avocados and nuts. Whole grains are a good source of selenium, while kale, spinach, and other leafy, green vegetables are packed full of lutein and zeaxanthin. Finally, don’t forget the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids which are found in cold water fish, olive oil, and other healthy fats.
Eye health isn’t just about your diet. Exercise, especially cardiovascular activities, increases blood flow to the optical nerve and the retina. This prevents pressure from building up, while also bringing fresh supplies of oxygen and nutrients. Regular exercise also reduces the risk of other diseases which can cause vision damage as a side effect.
Finally, numerous diseases are linked to smoking, especially AMD and cataracts. The best thing you can do to protect your eye health is to stop smoking immediately.
2. Reduce eye strain by wearing your glasses and turning on the lights.
If you don’t have glasses yet, you can protect your vision by making sure you have enough light, especially when doing activities that require visual concentration, like reading, cooking, or focusing on a craft project. And if you have glasses, remember to wear them! Those with low prescriptions in particular sometimes avoid wearing their glasses, or only put them on in certain situations. But this only puts greater strain on your eyes, which can make vision problems worse.
3. Wear sunglasses and protect your eyes from glare.
Sunglasses aren’t just for bright days. Even when it’s cloudy out, UV rays can cause damage to your eyes, increasing your risk of corneal damage, cataracts, cancers, and other eye conditions. You should also pay attention to glare. Light reflected off snow, water, or parked cars can be just as damaging as direct light. If your phone has a weather app, check the UV index before you go out and wear sunglasses or a hat when the index is above a 3.
4. Get a good night’s sleep to give your eyes a rest.
Our eyes grow wearier as the day goes on, especially if we spend a lot of time in front of screens. You can rest your eyes during the day by following the 20–20–20 rule: if you’re doing work in front of a screen or that requires a lot of close-up concentration, take a break every twenty minutes by looking away from your task for twenty seconds and focusing on an object at least twenty feet away.
And of course, be sure to get a good night’s sleep! Lack of sleep can lead to drier, itchier eyes the next day because your body will produce fewer tears. Some decent shut-eye not only helps your eyes rest, it also gives your body a chance to heal.
5. Pay attention to symptoms and changes in eye health.
Changes in eye health can happen so gradually that you may notice other symptoms before linking them to your vision. For instance, if you’re experiencing headaches or feeling overly exhausted at the end of the day, it could be due to strain caused by poor vision. Maybe you find you’re braking too hard while driving because you’re misjudging how far away things are, or wearing sunglasses more often because the sun seems unusually bright. You might not immediately link these to changes in your vision, but if they persist, it’s a sign you should see an eye doctor.
6. Schedule an annual eye exam.
Finally, as you age, eye exams should be a part of your regular health checkup routine, just like going to the dentist or getting a physical. We recommend a full eye exam once a year, but you should also set an appointment if you notice a change in your vision, or if you have an eye condition that requires closer monitoring.
It’s never too soon to start taking care of your eyes.
Good vision isn’t a thing to squander. The best time to start protecting your eyes is when they’re still healthy. If you wait to begin taking care of your health until the symptoms of poor vision set in, you may already have lost half the battle. Instead, take proactive measures to protect your eyes now, and maintain an annual appointment with your eye doctor to catch any changes in your vision early. With the right care, you can enjoy clear vision for years to come.