If you need glasses or contact lenses in order to see clearly, you’re far from alone. According to the Vision Council of America, around 75 percent of the U.S. adult population wears some type of corrective vision device or relies on surgery to correct vision problems.
The Council also points to a noticeable increase in prescription vision correction use among people age 55 and older in 2015 alone. With an aging Baby Boomer population, that trend is likely to continue, since it’s natural to experience some vision loss with age.
But vision loss can’t always be treated with glasses or contacts. The American Foundation for the Blind reports that as many as 23.7 percent of the nation’s adults report some loss of vision, which the Foundation defines as “having trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.”
By taking some actions to protect their vision, many older adults can reduce the risks of dealing with loss that isn’t correctable. Protecting your vision now can also reduce your reliance on increasingly powerful prescriptions later. Here are eight ways you can protect against vision loss as you age.
1. Take breaks from screen time
Staring at screens is one of the top ways many individuals “slowly kill their vision,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert with Maple Holistics. Backe says that screens aren’t a healthy reading device for the eyes, since they they often reflect a harsh light that’s hard on eyes. To protect your eyes from screens’ effects, Backe recommends reading from paper when possible.
If you have to read from a screen or work a lot on a computer, Backe says regular breaks are important. “Every hour, remove your eyes from what you’re reading and focus on a faraway spot for 30 seconds,” he advises. “This is a tried-and-true method to slowing the decline of vision.”
2. Get routine eye exams
Making sure to get regular eye exams is another key to optimizing eye health as you age, says Ohio-based optometrist Dr. Mark Nolan. “Exams can detect potential issues early and provide patients with an opportunity to speak to their physician about changes they have noticed with their vision.”
Routine exams ensure you have the right prescription for your current vision, reducing eye strain that could lead to a faster decline in functionality. But they’re also opportunities to help vision care professionals catch even more serious issues -- such as glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration -- early enough for potential treatment.
3. Eat a well-balanced diet
Nolan also recommends a well-balanced diet “packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids,” as these nutrients may help lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other foods rich in eye-healthy nutrients include salmon, orange peppers, colorful vegetables and fruits.
Another reason to eat well for eye health is because it helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases or complications from issues such as diabetes. These diseases can lead to vision loss.
4. Exercise regularly
“Regular exercise has a positive impact on eye health,” says Nolan.
The entire body is connected, so caring for yourself in a holistic manner does make a difference for your eyes. Plus, exercising is another way to decrease the risks of chronic diseases and issues like high blood pressure, which could impact your vision.
5. Protect your eyes from UV rays when outside
Optometrist Dr. Taylor Bladh sees thousands of older patients each year and has dealt with cataracts himself. He says UV exposure that happens over time is one of the leading causes of cataracts. While Bladh says Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers probably received more UV exposure in their childhood and teen years than in adult years, they can take steps to protect their vision as they age. He notes, “For now, the best thing we can do is wear glasses with blue light-filtered lenses.”
6. Keep eyes hydrated
Chronically dry eyes can create vision impairment, and Bladh notes that it’s an increasing concern as you age. Eyes begin to dry over time for a number of reasons, but the change is gradual, and you may not notice it happening. Eye drops for added moisture and omega-3s in your diet (or taken as a supplement) can help reduce issues associated with dry eyes, says Bladh.
7. Clean around eyes properly and carefully
Another common risk related to dry eyes is a condition called called meibomian gland disfunction. This occurs when glands on the eyelids that normally produce tears when you blink are blocked. External factors such as smog, medication or makeup can contribute to the blockage.
“Warm compresses, lid scrubs and omega-3s are the main remedies I recommend to my patients,” says Bladh.
8. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level
Finally, high blood pressure can impact eye functionality and even lead to disease. Following your physician’s advice for blood pressure medications or diet is not only important for overall health, but can also help you safeguard your vision.
Your vision isn’t separate from the rest of your body, and taking good care of your overall health helps you lower the risks of vision issues with age. Anyone can experience vision loss for any number of reasons, so staying up to date with eye exams and following your healthcare providers’ advice is often the best way to keep your eyes functioning well for as long as possible.