31 January 2019

Eye health tips for older people

As we get older and start slowing down in life, so do our bodies. Our joints often become a bit stiff and we start relying on stairlifts, we’re a bit slower on our feet and we just can’t move like we used to.

With our bodies starting to slow down, we start to become more aware of the body parts that need a little extra care and attention, such as our eyes.

Even if we’ve had perfect vision all our lives, that doesn’t stop us from suddenly needing glasses or encountering something more serious with our vision or with our eyes themselves.

To ensure your eyes stay in tip-top condition, we’ve put together a list ways you can keep on top of your eye health.

Get regular eye tests

Although 68% of us value our eyesight over our other senses, that doesn’t stop us leaving it months or even years without having our eyes tested.

“Regular sight checks are important for two reasons, firstly because having your vision corrected can improve the quality of day to day life,” Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical adviser to the College of Optometrists, told Saga Magazine. “Secondly, regular eye tests can mean early detection of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), that could lead to sight loss.”

Even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems with your eyes or vision, it’s always worth heading to the opticians regularly just to be on the safe side, particularly as some people are more prone to conditions than others, says Saga Magazine. “If you’re over 40, have a close relative with glaucoma or other eye conditions, are of African Caribbean origins, you may be more likely to have an eye condition that may not have symptoms until quite late on, such as glaucoma.”

To ensure you aren’t suffering from any underlying eye problems, make sure you make use of the free eye tests given to over 60s by the NHS every two years.

Eat healthily

Many people are unaware that taking charge of your eating habits can reduce your risk of eye disease. The Association of Optometrists (AOP) recommends eating a healthy balanced diet of “omega-3 fats, found in oily fish, and lutein, found in dark-green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.” They also recommend eating foods rich in vitamins A, C and E, so make sure you’re eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.”

Teresa Anthony, who heads up ophthalmology services at Emersons Green NHS Treatment, told Care UK her top tips for maintaining eye health with different food varieties. Like AOP, she recommends eating plenty of oily fish, as it “provides structural support to cell membranes and may be beneficial for dry eyes. Research has shown that eating just one portion of fish a week may reduce the risk of developing sight-stealing AMD.”

She also recommends eating plenty of eggs: “They are packed full of eye-health nutrients, including sulphur, which may protect the lens from cataracts. Try teaming it with wholemeal toast, as whole grains also contribute to eye health.”

Stop smoking

If you’re a smoker, AOP recommends kicking the habit not just for your overall health, but because it can cause eye disease. “Many people are unaware of the link between smoking and eye disease. If you smoke, stop. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing eye diseases, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. However long you have smoked it’s never too late to benefit from quitting.”

Protect your eyes

We all know how dangerous the sun’s rays can be to our skin, and our eyes are no different. Belson & Sons Opticians recommend taking extra precautions when you’re out in the sun. “Use sunglasses to block harmful sun rays from damaging the eye and reduce the risk of developing cataracts, AMD and other vision complications.”

But not just any pair of sunglasses will do - ensure they specifically filter out UV, as lots of sunglasses dull sunlight but they don’t actually block harmful UV rays.

Belson & Sons Opticians also advise wearing protective eyewear if you are frequently exposed to harmful substances and objects through work or sport. “If your work exposes your eyes to dangerous objects or substances such as chemicals, pieces of metal, stones or more it is important to invest in protective eyewear such as goggles and safety glasses to keep your eyes safe. If you are an athlete, these protective wears can be necessary for your eyes too.”

Give your eyes a break

To prevent dry eyes and muscle strain, AOP recommends giving your eyes a rest from any digital devices that you may be using throughout the day. “When you work on something close up, such as a computer, tablet or smartphone, your eye muscles are active. This may cause tiredness and headaches, even in those with normal sight.

“Follow the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. And don’t forget to blink, as this helps prevent your eyes drying out.”

Safety & poor vision

As well as looking after your eye health, it’s important to ensure you keep yourself safe if you have poor vision. The College of Optometrists’ website Look After Your Eyes has some recommendations for keeping yourself safe in your home and reducing your risk of falling or hurting yourself due to poor vision.

  • Have good lighting. Energy-saving bulbs are fine as long as you position them correctly. We recommend having lamps close to where you need the light (for example, a lamp near the chair where you sit to read).
  • Make sure you turn the lights on at home when it is dark so that you can see clearly where you are going.
  • Have a good contrast between objects to make them easier to see. For example, having a dark toilet seat on a white toilet (and a dark bathroom floor if you have a white toilet, sink and so on) and having dark edges on steps and stairs.
  • If your optometrist has told you that you should wear glasses for distance (watching television, walking about and so on) you should keep them on when you are walking outside your home.

If you take part in regular outdoor activities, it may be a good idea to have a pair of distance glasses to wear outdoors or when you are in unfamiliar places, or if your distance prescription is not very strong, take your glasses off. Your optometrist will be able to advise you about this.