One of the most common eye problems that develop as people age are cataracts. Cataracts occur when our natural lens, which is situated behind the iris and the pupil, begins to cloud. It is the number one cause of blindness throughout the world as well as the leading cause of vision loss in those 40 and over, affecting over 22 million Americans. When light passes through the pupil on its way the the retina, it has to pass through the lens of the eye. When a person has a cloudy lens due to cataracts, it causes this light to scatter resulting in blurred vision and other visual complaints for the patient.
Causes and Signs of Cataracts
Although there can be many things that contribute to cataract formation, the most common cause is age. Oxidative stress and ultraviolet like cause the proteins in the lens to condense and crystallize. An easy way to think of it is having mud or dirt on the windshield of your car. When your car windshield is dirty it makes it difficult to see out of the car. When your lens is cloudy it leads to blurred vision, glare, light sensitivity, and reduced night vision.
Risk factors for cataracts include:
- Diabetes and hypertension
- Certain medications like inhaled or oral steroids
- Excessive alcohol use
How Cataracts Affect the Elderly
Because cataracts typically affect older adults, they can wreak havoc on a person's lifestyle. Elderly patients typically are experiencing decline in other areas, such as loss of coordination, muscle weakness, and joint pain, meaning that a loss of vision can have drastic consequences. A senior may feel completely disabled as their sight leaves them, as they will have to rely on others to assist them on ordinary tasks such as using the bathroom or cooking a meal. This can lead to severe changes in mood and mental outlook.
Additionally, cataracts greatly increase the fall risk for the elderly. This is why it is critical for elderly patients living at home or in a nursing home to get annual eye exams. If the cataracts are severe enough and the patient is medically stable to undergo the procedure, we will refer them for cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is the most commonly done procedure today with a very high success rate. The cloudy lens is removed and a new plastic lens is inserted in its place. After surgery, patients not only see clearer but in some cases may no longer need prescription glasses to see.
If you are ready to get treatment for your cataracts and get your vision back, contact us today for a consultation.