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Series on Aging!

Aging: Beginning to an end?

When do you get old?

Aging and the "Fountain of Youth"

Why does the body get old?

Vision changes as we age

Hearing and the aging process

Additional Senior Articles of Interest:

Alzheimer's Disease

General Information and Referral-St. Louis, MO

Health Insurance 101 for Senior Citizens 

Depression among the Elderly

Medicare: How will it help me?

Nursing Homes: What critical information should I know?

Personal Safety for Grandma and Grandpa

Prescription Medication: You have to get it right

Social Security: Can I get it now?

Senior Housing Options

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Vision changes as we age 

Vision changes are inevitable 

Vision changes are one of the more undeniable signs of aging.  These changes in vision usually occur between the ages of about 40 to 50, with most people noticing more difficulty seeing objects closer than 2 feet as they age. This change in vision is referred to as presbyopia which occurs as the lens of the eye begins to stiffen. In normal cases a lens changes its shape to help people focus their eyes.  When the lens stiffens, it cannot easily focus on objects that are up close. 

Many people try to ignore presbyopia as long as they possibly can.  Ultimately however, almost everyone with presbyopia eventually will need some type of reading glasses.  People who are nearsighted or have problems seeing objects in the distance may need to wear bifocals, or glasses with variable focus lenses. 

As people continue to age, vision also changes in other ways. Frequently it becomes more difficult to see in dim light.  Light passes through the lens to the retina on the back of the eye, but as the lens becomes denser you actually have less light entering the eye. The retina contains cells that sense light which then becomes less sensitive.  More light then becomes necessary for activities such as reading.  On the average, a 60-year-old needs about three times more light to read than a 20-year-old. 

Vision is also affected significantly by the reactions of the pupil of the eye as we age. Research continues to find that as we age the pupil of the eye reacts much more slowly to changes in light. Light is allowed to enter through the pupil (which widens or narrows) much more slowly letting more or less light in.  As result, older people may be unable to see when they first enter a dark room for a longer period of time.  Or, they may also be temporarily blinded when they enter a very brightly lit area.  This effect is most noticeable during such experiences as when an older person leaves a dark theater or may enter or exit a tunnel while driving.  Older eyes are less able to adjust partly because the muscles that expand and contract in people tend to weaken as they age.  Older individuals may also become much more sensitive to glare.  However, more frequently, increased sensitivity to glare is usually due to eye disorders such as cataracts. 

Changes in color vision

Color vision may also change as people age.  Colors may actually be perceived differently by older people.  This change occurs frequently because the lens tends to yellow slightly with the aging process. Yellowing affects how colors at the blue-violet end of the light spectrum are viewed.  Blues tend to be less vivid and look more like gray.  This change is not a huge problem for most people.  However, older people may have trouble reading black letters on a blue background or reading blue letters in general. Usually at the other end of the color spectrum however, reds tend to be much more vivid. 

The ability to see differences in shades and tones and also to see fine details decreases.  Vision experts usually attribute this change to the fact that the number of nerve cells of the brain used to transmit visual signals from the eyes to the brain decreases.  This change affects the way depth is perceived and judging distances becomes much more difficult. 

A minor irritant for older people may be floaters.  Floaters are tiny black specks moving across your field of vision.  The specks are bits of fluid within the eye that have solidified.  Floaters do not significantly interfere with vision however.  Unless they increase in a significant amount they are not usually of concern.

Some information from The Merck Manual of Healthy Aging 

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic M.A. Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate (Health Psychology) 

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