Image of glasses set on a table.

Geriatric eye care, also referred to as geriatric optometry, is a difficult area of health care for a number of reasons. Not only do eye diseases tend to become more apparent as age increases, but a patient’s ability to deal with and recover from these conditions becomes less effective. Thus, it is often necessary for the loved ones of elderly individuals to help them with their geriatric eye care needs.

An elderly couple smiles during a warm embrace.In this article, we’ll review some of the most common vision problems that emerge in mid- to late-adult life, as well as basic ways that family members and caregivers can facilitate the process of receiving geriatric eye care for loved ones. 

For more information about age-related vision problems or to schedule an eye exam, please contact Spectrum Eye Care of Colorado Springs.

Although vision performance tends to decline on some level in all persons above the age of 40, there are certain conditions that seem to appear more frequently in geriatric optometry case studies. These eye conditions are:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic Eye Disease (abbreviated “DED”)

Macular Degeneration

The macula is a structure of concentrated nerve cells found in the retina. This area of clustered cells is responsible for producing many of the fine details and images we see. However, with age, natural processes in the macula cause breakdown of the tissue and subsequent growth of blood vessels over the area. This compromises vision and produces visual symptoms like:

  • Seeing lines as wavy or broken
  • Experiencing difficulty in discerning fine details
  • Clouding of vision by dark lines, shadows, or spots

Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for macular degeneration. If treatment is started early enough in the progression of the disease, visual ability can be retained for a longer period of time. But in all cases of this condition, eventually functional vision will be lost.

How can I support my loved one?

To support a loved one with macular degeneration, you will have to be very patient. Tasks that seem basic or independent to you, like reading or dialing a phone number, will be difficult for a person with this condition due to their impaired vision. Be willing to help with any number of tasks to the best of your ability. After all, it’s reasonable to assume your loved one would do the same if you were in their position. 

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition that results from excessive fluid and pressure buildup in the eye. The high pressure puts a strain on the optic nerve (the nerve that connects the eye to the brain) and impairs visual acuity. If left untreated, this condition can cause blindness. Indeed, it is one of the most prevalent causes of blindness in adults aged 60 or older. 

There are two primary forms of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma does not have any immediate symptoms and takes longer to progress, whereas angle-closure glaucoma is an emergency condition — its acute, quick-onset symptoms should be treated as soon as possible or else blindness may ensue.

Common symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma are:

  • Severe pain or headache in the forehead or eye area
  • Redness or inflammation in the white of the eye
  • Vision: image definition is blurry or details are diminished 
  • Vision: seeing halos around objects or a spectrum (rainbow) of colors
  • Queasiness, nausea, or vomiting

Open-angle glaucoma is usually symptom-free until the later, more severe stages of the diseases. For this reason, it is incredibly important that adults see an optometrist for regular eye exams. Your eye doctor can help diagnose and treat you for open-angle glaucoma before symptoms emerge and decrease the likelihood of losing any visual acuity. 

How can I support my loved one?

Because glaucoma is a hereditary condition, the best way you can support a loved one is by being cognizant of your family health history. Whether they have been diagnosed with glaucoma or are merely at risk of developing it matters little; both are equally serious and can lead to major health problems. If you haven’t received an eye exam lately, or your loved one has not, get one as soon as possible. Preventative measures are one of the most genuine and helpful kinds of support.

Cataracts

The lens of the eye is responsible for focusing and channeling light in proper ways so it can be processed into a visual image. Throughout the natural stages of the aging process, the lens of the eye will become clouded with spots called cataracts. This condition can only be fixed with surgery, but fortunately, it is one of the most successful and widely performed operations in the world.

How can I support my loved one?

Offer to go with them to doctor’s appointments and accompany them to surgery if necessary. If they are waiting for treatment for an extended period of time, help them with any tasks that may have become difficult due to the condition, such as reading and driving a vehicle.

Diabetic Eye Disease (DED)

If an elderly loved one in your family has diabetes, they are at higher risk of developing diabetic eye disease (DED). The symptoms of this disorder are very similar to those of glaucoma. However, its onset is caused by co-occurring health issues brought about by diabetes.

How can I support my loved one?

Encourage your loved one to listen to their doctor and optometrist regarding best practices for preventing DED. Let them know they are not alone and you will do whatever may be necessary to help them through the difficult parts of precautionary measures and, if necessary, treatment.

Geriatric eye care is a broad field that can include many conditions and variations. But as we have seen in this article, there are four common conditions that emerge during this later stage of life. Education and awareness are the two greatest steps you and your loved ones can make to prevent unnecessary eye disease.


Your vision is far too important to lose, so don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with a geriatric eye care specialist today by contacting Spectrum Eye Care today.