Caring for ageing eyes

Understanding how our vision changes as we get older, and how to keep our eyes in good condition.

Written by Professor Gerard Sutton

Nobody likes getting older. Apart from the grey hair and wrinkles, our eyes also age. For most of us the first sign of ageing eyes is when we need reading glasses. Later in life, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration can affect our ability to see well.

The good news is that there are a number of solutions to help maintain our vision and allow us freedom from reading spectacles.

How your vision changes over time

Your eyes are like other body components – they (hopefully) work well when you’re young; may need a bit of help and attention over the years to work at optimal levels; and then, begin to lose their ‘youthful vigour’ as you age.

Your vision should remain stable during your 20s and 30s. When it’s all working properly, the lens of the eye is extremely flexible, flattening for distance vision and flexing for near vision, enabling you to see clearly whatever you’re looking at. The changes begin as you reach your mid-40s.

By about the age of 45, your lens has become significantly less flexible, and because the ‘flex’ in your lens isn’t quite as strong, close-up items become increasingly more difficult to focus on. This is called presbyopia, and it’s a natural part of ageing. Even rock stars and world-leaders can’t avoid it.

Time for reading glasses?

This is when you begin to reach for reading glasses, although if you’ve suffered from short-sightedness or long-sightedness most of your life, you’ll need multifocal glasses.

Fortunately, today there are also several surgical options that can reduce or even eliminate the need for reading or multifocal glasses. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution though, so it’s important to visit an ophthalmologist to find out which solution is right for you.

Preventing eye disease

As your eyes (and their many amazing working parts) age, they become more susceptible to disorders. Around your fifth decade, there are a number of eye conditions that warrant the need for regular eye examinations. These include glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

All of these conditions have the capacity to cause significant vision loss if they go undetected. However, the good news is they are all treatable. Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure in the world. Glaucoma treatment can be as simple as daily eye drops, and age-related macular degeneration, if detected early, can be treated with regular injections.

The sooner any of these conditions are diagnosed, the better the visual outcome. So, regular visits to your optometrist or ophthalmologist are important to identify these conditions early.

Eye care made clear

Over the years as a consulting ophthalmic surgeon, I’ve been surprised at how few people know exactly what’s happening as their eyes age. So, together with my colleagues at Vision Eye Institute, I’ve helped to create a new website to explain to patients what’s happening, and what their options are. MyEyes@45 provides eye information, in plain language, that we think everyone should be aware of, however old they are. Knowledge is power and you can use this knowledge to age gracefully and always get the most out of our visual world.

Learn more about eye care at myeyesat45.com.au

An eye test is recommended at least every two years. To find a Medibank Members' Choice optometrist visit medibank.com.au

Written by Professor Gerard Sutton

Professor Gerard Sutton is an internationally recognised ophthalmic surgeon who specialises in laser eye surgery, laser cataract surgery and corneal transplantations.

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