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Why Seniors Are At Risk For Eye Diseases

02/01/2016 12:33 EST | Updated 02/01/2017 05:12 EST
Sam Edwards via Getty Images
Senior man with hands clasped using laptop

I'd like to think I can still snowboard circles around my kids, but with age comes the realization that my body can't do what it could at 18. The truth is that as we get older, there are more things we need to do for our overall health, and more frequent check-ups for eye health should be a top priority for seniors.

By 2031, seniors will represent 22.9 per cent of Ontario's population compared to 15.4 per cent today. By 2031:

  • Ocular complications from diabtes is projected to increase by 15 per cent.

  • Advanced macular degeneration prevalence is projected to increase by 40 per cent.

  • Glaucoma prevalence is projected to increase by 23 per cent.

  • Cataract prevalence is projected to increase by 32 per cent.

One out of every three seniors in Ontario will have some form of vision-reducing eye disease. When you think about the strain and fatigue our eyes have endured throughout our lifetime, this makes sense. The countless hours spent in front of a computer screen or the damage caused by the powerful UV rays from the sun -- all of this slowly adds up.

Seniors' increased risk of developing significant vision problems can seriously alter their ability to remain self-sufficient. These sort of challenges can lead to declining health, disability and institutionalization. Vision impairment is also a symptom and complication of various diseases associated with aging, including diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Vision problems in Ontario's most fragile people have been shown to:

  • Double the difficulties with activities of daily living.

  • Double the risk of falls.

  • Triple the risk of depression.

  • Quadruple the risk of hip fracture.

  • Double social dependence.

  • Increase medication errors and increase difficulty with daily living.

Despite these alarming statistics and all the information that's available to us, only 43 per cent of people over the age of 65 actually receive an annual eye exam, which is the most effective way to detect early signs of eye disease. When I speak with my patients, the main reason they haven't come to see me sooner is because they assume that if they can see well, they don't need an appointment. Many patients are often angry with themselves or in disbelief when I tell them that if they had seen me sooner, there could have been a more effective solution to their eye health problem.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends that seniors over 65 visit their optometrist annually. An important thing to remember is that in Ontario, these visits are fully covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

So if you haven't already done it, I encourage you to have a conversation with your local optometrist to learn more about your overall eye health.

Seniors eye health by the numbers:

  • By age 65, one out of every three seniors in Ontario will have some form of vision reducing eye disease, yet only 43 per cent of Ontario seniors aged 65 and over received a regular eye exam from an optometrist in 2012/2013.

  • An estimated 20 per cent of seniors and 70 per cent of long-term care home residents have vision loss.
  • Some 25 per cent of the population will have Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) by the time they are 75 years old.

  • One in nine people develop irreversible vision loss by age 65.

  • People with vision loss are admitted to long-term care three years earlier than those without vision loss.

Dr. Jeff Goodhew enjoys seeing patients of all ages, is an active part of his profession and currently serves as the President of the Ontario Association of Optometrists. He also serves as the co-chair of the National Public Education Committee for the Canadian Association of Optometrists and is a partner in Socialpractice.ca, a social media consulting firm helping health care providers leverage the power of social media. Outside of work he is passionate about running, cycling, snowboarding and spending time with his wife Dr. Tina Goodhew and their two teenage sons Camden and Braedon.

Be sure to read more of Dr. Goodhew's blog posts on eye and vision health by clicking here.

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