It’s perfectly natural to experience a host of changes as you age, especially where vision is concerned. Cataracts are one of the most common threats to senior health, decreasing older adults’ comfort with mobility and, in turn, increasing their risks of falling. The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from developing cataracts, and ways you can keep your vision problems in check. Here’s a closer look at the signs of cataracts and what you can do to mitigate your risk.
What Are Cataracts, and Who Is at Risk?
Over time, the lenses of your eyes thicken and become less flexible, and some of the tissues in the lens may start to break down and clump together to form cloudy patches on the lens. These may start small, but they usually grow in size and thickness over time. Cataracts may affect any part of the eye, and while they may occur in only one eye, they often form in both. Early signs of cataracts include cloudy or blurred vision, which may affect such a small portion of your lens that you hardly notice it at first. Cataracts may also be present if you frequently have to change your eyeglass prescription or if you are hypersensitive to light. With time, more pronounced visual changes — such as decreased night vision, faded color perception, seeing “halos” around lights, or double vision in one eye — can occur.
A predisposition to cataracts may be hereditary, but there are risk factors you can manage mitigate your risk of developing them. Those with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cataracts, as well as those who smoke, drink excessively, use long-term cortiosteroid medications, or are obese. High blood pressure and overexposure to sunlight can also contribute to cataract formation, as well as eye injuries or surgeries.
To reduce your risk of developing cataracts, along with such things as reducing alcohol use, quitting smoking, and wearing sunglasses while you’re outdoors during the day, be sure to have regular eye exams. While an exam itself may not prevent cataracts, it will allow them to be diagnosed early, so you can decrease these contributing factors if you haven’t done so already and hopefully slow their progress.
How Is It Treated?
Unfortunately, the only treatment at this time for cataracts is surgery, wherein a clouded lens is removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens. The lens is a permanent replacement, unlike a contact lens. Cataract surgery is generally an outpatient procedure, although most doctors recommend opting for surgery only if and when cataracts start affecting your daily life significantly.
If you choose to forego lens replacement, or need to adapt to your visual changes while waiting for surgery, you can use a magnifying glass to enlarge print and make it easier to read. Also make sure the lighting in your home is adequate, and avoid driving at night if possible. Be aware that any decrease in visual acuity can make you more prone to accidents or falls, so reduce that risk by maintaining clear pathways in your home, and don’t leave tripping hazards on the floor. If you are especially concerned about falling, a medical alert device can bring peace of mind.
Cataracts can only be treated with surgery. But with early prevention and detection — and a few behavioral changes — you can minimize the impact of cataracts on your vision and your lifestyle.