August is National Eye Exam Month, and during this important month, we aim to shed light on a pervasive concern within our elderly community: glaucoma. This vision disorder, a leading contributor to blindness among older adults, affects nearly three million Americans, with a significant portion of them aged 65 and older.
Glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve has been damaged, which affects the quality of vision in patients. It occurs when there’s a buildup of pressure inside the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve (this nerve transmits information from the eye to the brain).
About 75 percent of those who are legally blind due to glaucoma are seniors, so if you suspect a senior you love may have the condition, it’s important to contact a doctor since half of those who have the condition don’t know they have it!
It’s not time to panic, however, as a diagnosis of glaucoma does not mean blindness is in your loved one’s future. Many treatment options exist. But that also doesn’t mean you should ignore any glaucoma warning signs. The sooner you know what’s going on, the sooner you and your loved one can treat – or even prevent – glaucoma.
Why seniors are more at risk of developing glaucoma
Most people who have glaucoma are seniors. This is simply because they’ve lived longer and thus have had more time to experience eye trauma (such as an injury to the eye) or develop diabetes or heart problems, like high blood pressure, which can increase the likelihood of developing this condition. (An important note: even those with low blood pressure could be at risk of developing glaucoma because low blood pressure can affect the optic nerve and the pressure inside the eye negatively.)
Glaucoma warning signs
There really aren’t “warning signs” for the most typical form of glaucoma, called primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Vision loss does occur early with POAG, but it’s usually in the peripheral/side vision and therefore often isn’t noticed. But once that vision is gone, it’s gone: there is no treatment. It’s therefore critical that your loved one receive regular eye examinations so that their doctor can prescribe treatment to protect vision.
Warning signs can come early for the second, less-common form of glaucoma called primary closure-angle glaucoma. Symptoms can include:
- Hazy or blurred vision
- Severe head and eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting (which goes along with the eye pain)
- Rainbow-colored circles that appear around bright lights
- Sudden sight loss
If your loved one experiences even just one of the above symptoms, make sure he or she visits an eye doctor immediately.
An annual eye exam is critical, as treatment in the early stages of glaucoma can help minimize the risk. Often, there is a gradual rise in eye pressure without noticeable symptoms. Therefore, catching it early is paramount for a successful treatment.
Yearly eye exams are the BEST “treatment” for glaucoma
Because both forms of the condition often go undetected in their early stages, it’s especially critical to make sure your loved one receives a yearly eye exam from a professional. It’s not necessary to see an ophthalmologist (MD) for this examination: an optometrist’s office tests for glaucoma when someone comes in for a yearly glasses or contact subscription check and/or updated prescription.
If you find that your senior friend or family member hasn’t been going for these yearly vision checkups due to cost, let them know that a few organizations offer free eye exams. These organizations, such as VISION USA and EyeCare America, help many people who don’t have a vision plan provided by an employer, HMO or other healthcare plan, or who don’t have eye coverage via the Veterans Administration.
Medicare doesn’t provide eye exams, but individuals eligible for Medicare who have special eye needs or other general health problems can qualify for eye exam coverage. This is especially the case for those with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.
If you’re worried a loved one hasn’t been going for an annual eye exam because they're is afraid to drive or can’t drive, Interim HealthCare’s personal care services can provide a caregiver for a few hours a day, a few days a week, or more, for doctor’s visits such as these and other errands.
Help your senior loved ones stay safe and healthy
Home care can give you and your loved ones peace of mind, knowing that doctor’s appointments will never be missed. Regular doctor checkups also help keep the seniors in your life healthy and vibrant. If you or a loved one are in need of assistance, contact us. We’d be honored to help you.