Date: October 1st, 2007
Every day, our eyes enable us to respond to the smiles on our children’s faces, perform our daily tasks at work, watch our paths for obstacles, and even drive wherever we need to go.
Unfortunately, for many of us aging can make these everyday moments more difficult. Diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts can gradually rob us of a precious way that we interact with the world. As seeing becomes more of a strain, we can become less productive and independent, less safe, and increasingly out-of-touch with the world around us.
More than 38 million Americans age 40 and older are estimated to suffer from blindness, low vision, or an age-related eye disease. One in nine people over age 65 experiences serious vision loss and that number increases to one in four for people over 85.
Thanks to recent advances in medical research, however, the future is becoming more hopeful for older Americans. Studies have shed light on the inner workings of the complex human eye and scientists are finding new ways to prevent and treat eye diseases – even those that were previously thought to be untreatable.
Healthy body = healthy eyes
There are ways that you can help protect yourself from eye disease simply through the choices you make every day. If you’re taking care of your health in general, you’re also helping your eyes. Eating healthy foods and staying active will help you avoid health problems that can also cause vision loss.
If you are already suffering from disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure, self-care is even more important for preventing complications, which might include eye diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown that carefully controlling blood glucose levels in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes reduces the risk of complications such as diabetic retinopathy. Controlling blood pressure can help prevent glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy in diabetics.
Research has also found links between specific nutrients and the health of your eyes. For example, studies have shown that a diet rich in dark green vegetables such as spinach and kale, can help reduce your risk of developing AMD.
And if you needed a few more reasons to quit smoking, how about the fact that smokers are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to develop AMD; or that smoking increases your risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy in diabetics.
Hope remains for those affected
If you currently have an eye disease, there is still hope for preventing or delaying vision loss and the life changes that come with it.
In promising news for those at risk for AMD, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), showed that a specific combination of high doses of zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene taken on a daily basis could delay progression of the disease in patients who are already in its early stages. Nutritional supplements with this formulation are already on the market today.
In a continuation of this study (AREDS II), researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of certain other vitamins and fatty acids in slowing the progression of AMD and preventing cataracts from developing.
Medical intervention has shown much promise for other age-related eye diseases. In NIH-sponsored clinical trials, laser and surgical treatments reduced the incidence of blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy by 90 percent. Early intervention with pressure-reducing drugs also has been shown to help prevent vision loss in glaucoma patients.
Vision loss doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging. By paying careful attention to our health and taking advantage of a growing array of treatment options, we may be able to prevent eye disease from taking away our independence and impacting the quality of our lives.
For more information about preventing and treating eye disease, see Science in the Spotlight and visit the following Web sites:
- National Eye Health Education Program
- Prevent Blindness America: Growing Older with Good Vision
- Health Information from the National Eye Institute
- AMD Alliance International
- American Health Assistance Foundation: Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma
- American Diabetes Association
- The Glaucoma Foundation
- EyeCare America: The Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology
- Glaucoma Research Foundation