Learn about what is glaucoma and five tips for seniors dealing with glaucoma.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged by excessive pressure within the eye. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, particularly for seniors and the elderly.
Understanding glaucoma treatment options for seniors and how to improve vision as you age is important in retaining as much vision as possible.
The arrival of National Glaucoma Awareness Month each year is an ideal opportunity to review how to care for seniors who have or are at risk for glaucoma. While glaucoma can't be cured, a variety of glaucoma treatments are available to hold it at bay and help seniors maintain their vision.
Why are seniors at risk for glaucoma?
Seniors are particularly at risk for glaucoma, because as we age, there’s extra fluid that builds up in the eye and risks damaging the optic nerve connection. This is normal over time and slowly creates a loss in vision. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma is key to helping seniors and aging adults cope as well as maintaining any vision that’s left.
Glaucoma prevention tips for seniors
While glaucoma can’t be cured, understanding how to prevent glaucoma and treat it can help maintain your vision and prevent long-term vision loss.
If you're caring for an aging parent or loved one, take a look at these facts and tips to help you care for seniors with glaucoma.
1. Make sure seniors get regular eye exams
When you hear "pressure in the eye," it's natural to think that glaucoma is something you can feel. However, that's not the case. Ophthalmologists test for glaucoma with an array of tests that include measuring ocular pressure at the cornea, testing the field of vision, and dilating the eye to examine the optic nerve. Seniors 55 and up should undergo this test every year.
2. Opt for a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids
There are certain vitamins and minerals that can help seniors prevent glaucoma. Intraocular pressure inside the eye, that high pressure that causes glaucoma, increases with age in the United States — but, perhaps surprisingly, it decreases with age in Japan.
Scientists point to the difference in Western and Eastern diets, and in particular to the prevalence of omega-3 fatty acids in the Japanese diet. Add tuna, wild salmon, and anchovies to your diet, or supplement with omega-3 fish oil.
3. Stay current with all treatments
Many glaucoma patients take prescription eye drops to treat their condition. In addition, some oral medications can be used to treat glaucoma. Seniors who have fine motor control may need a little help aiming the eye drops successfully so that the valuable medication doesn't end up dripping down their cheeks.
Understanding the form of glaucoma will also determine treatment options. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common and symptoms mainly include slow vision loss. However, angle-closure glaucoma, while rare, requires medical emergency and symptoms are more severe with sudden eye pain and vision loss.
In addition, if seniors have memory problems, it's important to help them with their medications. If glaucoma isn't treated, the result is a permanent loss of vision. Caregivers of seniors with glaucoma must make sure medication is taken daily.
4. Keep your eyes open for glaucoma symptoms
Many seniors suffer from some sort of vision problems, but it's important not to assume all symptoms are just due to normal aging.
Remember, glaucoma typically develops without the patient being aware of the problem. Ask seniors under your care if they're experiencing blurred vision, floaters in their field of vision. Other symptoms and side effect of glaucoma include difficulty adjusting to changes in light, seeing double, and loss of peripheral vision. Even if the symptoms don't end up pointing to glaucoma, they all require a visit to an ophthalmologist.
5. Provide a safe living environment.
Seniors with glaucoma have impaired vision to a greater or lesser degree, which raises the possibility of accidents around the senior community. Make sure walking areas have no obstacles underfoot, and provide plenty of lighting to help residents see as clearly as possible. Because glaucoma patients can experience extreme sensitivity to light, it's also a good idea to establish a low-light area where they can feel comfortable.
How to help seniors with glaucoma?
Providing focused care for seniors with glaucoma can help keep the disease from getting worse while also enhancing quality of life. Use these tips to help preserve the vision of your aging loved ones and to help ensure their healthy life, whether they live at home or in a senior living community.
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