It might seem like a foregone conclusion — as you grow older, you’re going to experience eye and vision problems. Brace yourself for glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
But the message here is proactivity not inevitability. The truth is older adults can take several straightforward steps to help prevent, mitigate or delay the onset of age-related vision issues. Key among them is going in for your annual eye exam.
“Glaucoma and macular degeneration don’t really have any symptoms until they get to the later stages. The earlier you can catch those, the better,” says Dr. Shannon Elwood, optometrist and owner of Definitive Vision.
During an annual exam, eye doctors can study the retina, spot early signs of trouble and help slow the progression of problems by prescribing eye drops for glaucoma or suggesting vitamin supplements for AMD, a leading cause of vision loss in people over age 55. Neither condition is curable.
Many Medicare Advantage plans provide at least some level of coverage for vision-related services, including routine eye exams. (If you recently turned 65, check out BCBSNE’s Find an Agent page for help in navigating your Medicare decisions.)
Even if your annual exam has been postponed this year due to COVID-19, there are a few habits you can incorporate into your daily life to keep your eyes healthy and lower the risk of age-related vision issues.
Smoking is harmful to every system in the body, including the eyes.
“Smoking definitely increases the risk for glaucoma and macular degeneration,” Dr. Elwood says.
If you need help quitting, take advantage of programs and resources. These include the American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline & Tobacco Quitline (1-800-LUNGUSA), and the Nebraska Tobacco Quitline (1-800-784-8669), which can connect smokers to an expert Quit Coach, an easy-to-use Quit Guide workbook and other resources.
Wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
Sunlight, even if it’s indirect, can damage the eyes. Invest in sunglasses labeled 100% UV-A and UV-B protective. Wrap-around sunglasses help block light coming from any angle. Add another layer of protection when outside by wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
“The impact of sun exposure on the eyes is cumulative, so if you can start limiting exposure when you’re young, all the better,” Dr. Elwood says.
Eat an eye-healthy diet.
“A diet rich in green leafy vegetables (which include kale, spinach and arugula) has a lot of antioxidants, which are good for the eyes, especially the macula,” Dr. Elwood says.
Other eye-healthy foods include bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, blueberries, turkey and wild salmon.
The potential benefits of proactivity — from eating a healthy diet to keeping annual eye appointments – could be sustained independence, improved safety/reduced risk of falls, and a higher quality of life.
“Our goal is to keep people functioning with their daily activities for as long as they can,” Dr. Elwood says.
Learn more about vision benefits included in Medicare Advantage plans from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Most individuals become eligible for Medicare at age 65. Initial enrollment runs for seven months surrounding your 65th birthday, with another opportunity for entry between Jan. 1–March 31 each year.