How to care for your vision and eyes as you age

Looking after your vision now can preserve your point of view for decades.

By Mark Brook
As we age, our vision can deteriorate, potentially causing glaucoma, vision loss, blindness and dry eyes.
Beyond glasses, there are simple ways to protect your eyes against these conditions that can impact your quality of life, and time with loved ones.
We spoke to Dr Colin Clement, an ophthalmologist at Sydney’s North Shore Eye Centre to get all the information you need to know about how to care for your eyes, so you can keep living the colourful life you want.

What happens to your eyes in your 50s?

What’s going on?
“By now it’s likely you’ve already experienced some degree of trouble with your reading vision and that will likely continue to decline during this decade,” says Dr Colin Clement.
As eye muscles weaken they change the shape and position of the lens, which means a single-eye prescription may no longer be the best solution for you.
Dr Clement says, “Along with menopause-related dry eye conditions, your risk of glaucoma and cataract rises and you’re possibly struggling to focus up close [presbyopia].”
Sight Check-ups
Regular eye examinations with an optometrist or ophthalmologist are the best way to protect your eyes and detect various diseases, such as symptom-free glaucoma, which can lead to permanent loss of vision.
“For someone who has no specific risk factors and is unaware of other problems with their eyes, these check-ups are recommended every second year,” he explains.
Protect your eyes
Increased exposure to UV light is known to be a contributing factor in eye diseases.
“Shield your eyes by wearing sunglasses and prescription spectacles that offer adequate UV protection,” Dr Clement advises.
Some medications can cause visual side effects or dry eyes, so tell your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter meds you’re taking.
“If you have an eye condition or problem with tear production, taking antidepressants, anti-epileptics or sleeping tablets may worsen symptoms,” he says. Artificial tear drops can often provide relief.
Boost your vision.
“Many eye diseases involve free radicals and oxidation, so what you eat can potentially accelerate or halt the process,” Dr Clement says. Although carrots spring to mind, many other foods can also give an instant eye health boost.
Try salmon, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.

What happens to your eyes in your 60s?

What’s going on?
Eyesight deterioration continues with age, and the risk for eye disease increases. More subtle changes to vision and eye structures begin taking place, including reduced pupil size, loss of colour perception and diminished ability to see in low light.
“Presbyopia (also known as age-related far-sightedness) has finally reached its peak and, by now, you’ve probably noticed the occasional black spot or shadow in your vision,” Dr Clement says.
This occurs when a gel-like substance in the eye lifts away, resulting in harmless visual disturbances. The production of fewer tears will also lead to drier eyes.
Sight Check-ups
Annual eye examinations are recommended for everyone aged 60-plus. “In addition to a routine eye check-up, ask your GP for an annual physical to identify underlying conditions that could potentially cause eye problems,” Dr Clement suggests.
Left untreated, diabetes and high blood pressure can cause permanent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and eye strokes.
Protect your eyes
“Ease dry eye symptoms and improve the quality of your tears by applying a warm compress containing either baby shampoo or sodium bicarbonate to closed eyelids, each time you have a shower – the detergent action helps to open the glands in the eyelid,” Dr Clement says.
Use brighter lights for reading and give yourself extra time to refocus when emerging from low-lighting situations. Also, wear spectacles with photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating to reduce eye strain in environments where you’re exposed to bright sunlight.
Boost your vision
“In addition to antioxidant-rich fare, choose foods rich in vitamins A and C, and omega-3 fatty acids to protect your macula, the part of your eye responsible for central vision,” Dr Clement says.
Have no more than two standard drinks in a sitting and watch your diet – too much alcohol, fat and sugar can be harmful to the eyes. He says, “Being overweight raises your risk of diabetes, which can lead to loss of vision.”

What happens to your eyes in your 70s?

What’s going on?
By now it may have become obvious that colours aren’t as bright, and a loss of some of your peripheral vision may make driving more difficult. “As well as an increased risk of glaucoma, chances are you have cataracts or have already had them removed,” Dr Clement says.
“This is also the time when you’re most likely to develop macular degeneration, a type of vision loss that causes progressive loss of central vision.”
Sight check-ups
As you age, testing becomes even more important. Continue having an annual eye check-up – ask your GP to increase your overall health check-up to once every six-to-12 months.
“Regular eye exams are particularly important because an early diagnosis can limit vision loss and preserve your eyesight,” Dr Clement says.
Even if vision problems haven’t become an issue, do visit the optometrist regularly. If any vision changes do become apparent, report them to your doctor immediately.
Protect your eyes
Ask an optometrist about eyewear for different light conditions and whether the glasses you currently wear are suitable for your needs.
“There’s a link between certain types of lenses and an increased risk of falls, which can worsen with age,” Dr Clement says. “With anyone particularly active, the risk of having a fall is greater when they wear multifocal lenses, compared to monofocal lenses.”
Also be mindful of driving – especially at night. Increase your range of vision by physically turning your head to look both ways at intersections.
Boost your vision
Continue eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. “Numerous studies have shown that diets high in leafy greens, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium-rich foods, such as Brazil nuts, have a positive effect on preventing macular degeneration,” Dr Clement says.
And if you haven’t quit smoking, now is the time to stop. He adds, “Smoking can harm your health at any age, but in your seventies it’s particularly damaging because it increases your risk of eye disease progressing.”