Vision Loss: Causes, Treatments, Prevention

Discover how caregivers can support loved ones with vision loss through effective management and preventative strategies.
Published on
May 7, 2024
Presented by Givers
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The world shrinks dramatically when vision dims. Simple tasks morph into perplexing puzzles, and independence feels like a fading dream. As a family caregiver, you might be frustrated when your loved one experiences profound vision loss. Daily activities seem impossible, and you fear they will fall or have an accident. Fortunately, there are tools and strategies to weave a safety net of support, empowering them to reclaim their confidence and navigate everyday life.

What causes vision loss? 

Vision loss affects people of all ages. Diabetic retinopathy can sometimes be prevented through consistent doctor's appointments and blood sugar management. A car accident may cause retinal detachment. Sometimes, vision is affected by age. So, what causes visual impairment in aging adults? Your loved one might experience any one of these common conditions: 

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Age-related macular degeneration 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes vision loss in older adults. It affects the central vision needed for reading and recognizing faces. The damaged area of the eye makes it hard to see details. Peripheral vision is usually not affected. AMD has no cure, but treatments can slow its progression.

Treatments include managing symptoms and slowing progression with vitamins or injections.

Cataracts

Cataracts are clouding of the eye's natural lens that leads to decreased vision. Common with aging, cataracts can make it hard to see clearly, make colors look faded, or make you more sensitive to light. 

Treatment options: Clouding of the lens causes blurry vision. They are treated with safe outpatient surgery to improve vision with a clear, artificial lens.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy damages retina blood vessels, the light-sensitive layer in the eye. Early stages may have no symptoms, but advanced cases can lead to blurred vision, floaters (seeing spots), and even vision loss. 

Treatment options focus on managing blood sugar and may involve laser surgery or injections to prevent further damage. Talk to your loved one's eye doctor, who can provide guidance.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which is the connection between the brain and the eye. Increased pressure inside the eye is a major risk factor for glaucoma, which can lead to gradual vision loss if left untreated. 

Treatment options include medications or surgery to lower pressure inside the eye.

Macular edema

Macular edema can affect your loved one's vision. It causes the center of their vision to become blurry or distorted. This can happen if they have diabetes, AMD, or other eye problems. 

Treatments for macular edema depend on what caused it and may include medication, laser surgery, or injections. If you notice vision changes, you must immediately talk to an eye doctor.

Retinal detachment

Retinal detachment often occurs with aging. This serious medical condition happens when the retina separates from the rest of the eye. It can cause sudden vision loss, flashes of light, and a shadowy curtain in the field of vision. 

Treatment requires immediate medical attention and surgery to reattach the retina and prevent permanent vision loss.

Refractive errors

Vision problems are common and can make things blurry. These problems are caused by the eye not focusing light properly on the retina. There are three different types: nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. These can be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or laser surgery.

Your loved one's eye doctor will recommend eyeglasses, contact lenses, or laser surgery as treatment.

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Prevention and risk factors

Preventing vision loss involves more than just reacting to symptoms; it necessitates a proactive approach to health and lifestyle. Regular eye exams are essential, but there are several other steps that can significantly reduce the risk of developing severe eye conditions:

Regular eye examinations

Regular screenings by ophthalmologists or optometrists are crucial, especially for those over 50. These professionals can detect signs of eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration early on when they are most treatable.

Family medical history

Understanding genetic predispositions is vital. If eye diseases or conditions like diabetes—which is a significant risk factor for diabetic retinopathy—run in the family, increased vigilance and more frequent check-ups may be necessary.

Control of systemic health conditions

Conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can impair vision. Managing these through medication, diet, and regular medical check-ups is essential to prevent associated eye problems.

Protection against UV radiation

Prolonged exposure to sunlight can exacerbate conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration. Wearing sunglasses with high UV protection and a hat with a brim can shield the eyes from harmful rays.

Nutrition

A diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent or delay the onset of certain eye conditions. Foods high in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin are particularly beneficial. These can be found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.

Smoking cessation

Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing eye diseases, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Quitting smoking, or better yet, never starting, can dramatically reduce these risks.

Physical activity

Regular exercise can help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and other chronic diseases that can lead to vision loss. Activities like walking or cycling can improve overall blood circulation, which improves eye health.

Environmental modifications

For those experiencing low vision, reducing fall risks in the home, improving lighting, and using adaptive devices can prevent accidents and further harm to the eyes.

By integrating these preventative measures into daily life, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of severe vision loss and maintain better overall eye health. This proactive approach preserves vision and enhances the quality of life for aging adults.

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