Glaucoma affects roughly three million people in the United States. The risk of developing glaucoma in seniors is much greater than younger groups. Anyone over 60, individuals of African American descent who are over 40, and individuals who have diabetes or a familial history of glaucoma are up to eight times more likely to develop this incurable disease. In fact, glaucoma is the third leading cause of blindness in the world.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a complex group of diseases that cause the optic nerve to become damaged as a result of an inability to drain aqueous fluid from the eye. This leads to progressive and irreversible vision loss. Vision loss can be severe enough to result in blindness.
Types of Glaucoma
There are several types of glaucoma, most of which can be categorized as open-angle or angle-closure glaucoma. It generally develops so slowly that about half of people with glaucoma do not even know they are affected by the disease. Vision loss may occur before the diagnosis becomes obvious.Open-angle glaucoma is the most common, and it accounts for nine out of ten glaucoma diagnoses. Pressure builds as the eye’s drainage system is blocked up. A wide or “open” angle forms between the cornea and the iris. Despite open-angle glaucoma being a lifelong problem, symptoms are so gradual, the damage is not noticed for some time, resulting in more diagnoses of glaucoma in seniors. Angle-closure glaucoma is a less common, acute form of the disease. This form of glaucoma should be treated as a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. It occurs when drainage in the eye is blocked, rapidly increasing intraocular pressure. A narrow, or closed, angle forms in the cornea and iris and symptoms become very obvious very quickly.
Symptoms of Glaucoma in Seniors
Legal blindness is defined by the U.S. government as:
- Vision loss that cannot be corrected by glasses or lenses to 20/200, or
- Peripheral vision loss to less than 20 degrees.
Approximately 5% of people with glaucoma will become legally blind. The more advanced the case of glaucoma, the greater the risk of total vision loss. Unfortunately, the onset of glaucoma does not have many obvious symptoms. The initial symptoms can be easily missed. Early symptoms of glaucoma may include:
- Blurred vision
- Seeing rainbows
- Loss of peripheral vision
How to Slow Glaucoma in Seniors
Life without vision is a big change for a person who has been sighted their whole life. Loneliness, falls, depression, and difficulty completing everyday tasks are just some of the problems resulting from glaucoma in seniors. Loss of independence is a common fear for an otherwise active senior, which means understanding how to slow glaucoma in seniors is vital. Any vision loss should be inspected as soon as it is noticed.
Glaucoma Prevention Activities
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help prevent glaucoma in seniors. Please note that these tips should not be used in place of medical care, and they will not cure glaucoma. These glaucoma exercises are intended only for preventing glaucoma in seniors. Please consult with you doctor for any and all medical questions or concerns.
1. Attend regular eye exams.
Again, the symptoms of glaucoma often go unnoticed for years. Getting a yearly check up with a comprehensive dilated eye exam means your eye doctor can check for glaucoma every year — and you can be absolutely certain. An earlier diagnosis provides an earlier opportunity for preventing glaucoma in seniors, slowing vision loss and improving your long-term outlook. If you have a family history of glaucoma, make sure to let your optometrist or ophthalmologist know.If you need transportation assistance to attend medical appointments, CareLink provides a variety of services for homebound and active older Arkansans.
2. Engage in gentle activity for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week.
Actual physical exercise can also help slow glaucoma, in seniors or anyone else. Aerobic exercises in particular have been discovered as extremely helpful. Not only do they keep your body fitter and healthier, but some research also shows these types of exercises decrease intraocular pressure and improve blood flow in the eyes and brain. Good examples of aerobic exercises include walking, running, dancing, using stationary machines, cycling, or swimming.Try these seated exercises for seniors!It is also important to note, however, that some forms of exercise will have a negative impact on glaucoma in seniors. Things like weight lifting and bench presses may increase eye pressure and make glaucoma worse. Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. CareLink offers fitness classes, so you can stay fit no matter your age! Talk to your exercise instructor about plans specifically designed for how to slow glaucoma.
3. Take care of your blood sugar levels.
According to the CDC, nine out of ten cases of vision loss as a result of diabetes are preventable. If you have diabetes, you are much more likely to develop glaucoma. Glaucoma prevention includes controlling your blood sugar. Eating correctly, exercising often, and visiting your doctor regularly.
4. Eat for your eyes.
Some foods really are good for your eyes. Planning your meals to be heavy in those minerals and nutrients that are essential for eye health may help with preventing glaucoma in seniors. Produce, of course, is great for your eyes — and not just carrots. Leafy greens are especially good for eye health. Fish (such as tuna, salmon, or halibut) with high levels of omega-3s are also good for slowing glaucoma.
5. Treat your eyes well.
Taking good care of your eyes is, of course, one of the best things you can do for them. In addition to attending any appointments, make sure to take any prescribed medications as recommended. Always wear safety goggles if you are engaging in a task that could cause harm (like sawing wood). If you wear contact lenses, always use clean hands and put them in correctly. Wear shaded glasses when you’re in sunlight. If you spend a lot of time on a screen, follow the 20-20-20 rule of eye exercise: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
6. Practice Mindful Meditation.
A 2019 study found that patients who practiced mindful meditation actually saw an improvement in glaucoma symptoms. In fact, eye pressure was reduced by 25% in 75% of those who engaged in this glaucoma exercise in tandem with continuing medication as prescribed.
For More Information
If you or your loved one are an aging Arkansan, CareLink can help. From Meals on Wheels for the homebound to socializing and exercising at senior centers, we have something for everyone. If you or your loved one are experiencing symptoms of glaucoma, our trained caretakers and care coordinators can help make sure you are taking prescribed medication, get help with your home, and get to essential medical appointments. For more information, contact us today!