Vision Changes Due to Aging

How does aging affect the eyes?

Between the ages of 40 and 50, several changes in your eyes can affect your vision:

  • The lens of your eye starts to slowly lose the ability to stretch and go back to its normal shape. This makes it harder to focus for close-up activities such as reading.
  • The lens of your eye gets thicker and more yellow. These changes may affect the way you see colors and contrast. For instance, blue may look darker and be hard to tell apart from black or green.
  • Your pupil gets smaller. This means that you need more light to see well. It also takes longer to adjust to changing levels of light (going from daylight into a dimly lit room, for example).

You may have vision changes even though you do not have medical problems such as cataracts or glaucoma. However, if you notice any change in your vision, you should have an eye exam as soon as possible.

What problems do vision changes cause for older adults?

Light and glare

  • You may need more lighting to see well. What may seem like bright lighting to some may seem very dim to you.
  • You may struggle with glare from large windows that face the sun or very bright lights. Large amounts of light may be almost blinding. The older eye also takes longer to recover from glare than younger eyes.

Colors

  • Rooms and buildings in pastel colors may seem very dull or gray to you. If you spend a lot of time in these places, you may feel depressed by the drab colors.
  • It can be hard to match colors for things like clothing or paint when many colors look alike. Older women may not realize the true colors of the cosmetics they are using.
  • Medicines come in various colors, but many pills have similar shapes. It may be hard for you to tell one medicine from another based on their colors.
  • Problems with telling colors apart may make it hard for you to see when your food, especially meat, is done cooking.
  • You may not see bruises, rashes, or other changes in skin coloring and so may not get treatment.

Depth and distance

  • You may have a harder time judging distance than when you were younger.
  • You may have trouble judging the depth of the bathtub or a stair step. This is dangerous because your bones may be more brittle and break more easily if you fall. If you fear that you will fall in unfamiliar places, you may be less willing to leave your home.

Contrast

  • It is hard to see an object clearly against a background if the colors are almost the same. Signs can be harder to read because of this and stair edges may be harder to see.

Details

  • It may be harder to see detail and to read small print. Labels on products such as food and medicines often use very small typefaces, so preparing meals and taking medicine correctly may be more of a challenge. Menus, books, and sheet music are often printed in small print, making them hard to read. Any printing that is small may be hard for you to read without glasses or a magnifying glass.
  • You may also have trouble reading clocks, watches, telephones, television remote controls, and stove and oven controls. Poor vision may make it hard to do tasks such as mending clothes or sewing buttons.
  • Older men may shave less often because it may be hard to see the stubble growing on their face.

Visual field

  • The area you are able see when you look straight ahead may be smaller than when you were younger. If you have reduced side vision, you may not be able to see possible dangers, such as cars pulling onto the road, people, animals, or emergency vehicles.

What can I do to help myself?

Get regular eye exams so you can get help for any vision problems you have. Less than perfect vision does not have to hamper your lifestyle. Here are some simple changes that may help:

  • Write with bold, black felt-tip markers.
  • Use paper with bold lines to help you write in a straight line.
  • Put high-contrast colored tape on the edge of your steps to help you avoid a fall.
  • Install dark-colored light switches and electrical outlets that you can see easily against light colored walls.
  • Increase the size of print on your computer, cell phone, or tablet.
  • Ask if large print material is available from Medicare, insurance companies, pharmacies, and the library.
  • Use motion lights that turn on by themselves when you enter a room. These may help you avoid accidents caused by poor lighting.
  • Use contrasting plates, tablecloths, place mats, and napkins. Use light or dark colored plates, glasses, or cups that contrast with food and drinks. Use a cutting board that contrasts in color with the items that you are cutting.
  • Use telephones, clocks, and watches with large numbers, and put large-print labels on the microwave and stove.
  • Organize clothes by color or by matching outfits. Use a safety pin to tell black and navy colored items apart. Identify garments by textures and style rather than just color. Alternate light and dark colors in your closet. The contrasting sections will help you locate the color you want.
  • Label medicine caps with a bright color code system using nail polish or colored dots.
  • Keep lights on during the day so the lighting doesn’t change as much when you move between outdoors and indoors. When reading or working, sit so that windows are behind you or to your side. Don’t face the windows. If this is not possible, use blinds or shades to control the light during daylight hours. Avoid using a very bright lamp in a dark room.
  • Most people use black, dark brown, or gray luggage when they travel. If you use brightly colored (red or yellow) luggage, your luggage will stand out from the others on the carousel. If you already own dark-colored luggage, tie a brightly colored ribbon to the handle to help you know which suitcase is yours.
  • Buy medicine organizers from the drug store. They come in many shapes, sizes, and contrasting colors. Or ask your pharmacist to use different size bottles when filling your prescriptions.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-24
Last reviewed: 2014-11-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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