What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Glaucoma in the Elderly
Undiagnosed and untreated glaucoma in the elderly causes more vision loss than any other disease in the world. If you are over 60, your likelihood of developing glaucoma increases six-fold according to AARP, making it the leading cause of blindness for the elderly.
Learn more about how to prevent and treat glaucoma in yourself, a parent or senior loved one during this time.
Glaucoma in the Elderly
Glaucoma is a silent disease and many people may not be aware that they have it. The Glaucoma Research Foundation reports that three million people are living with glaucoma but 50% of these people don’t know they have the disease.
Glaucoma can be caused by a build-up of pressure within the eye that damages the optic nerve. Typically there is a clear fluid in the eye that moves in and out providing the nearby tissues with nourishment. The fluid is meant to pass through the spongy meshwork at the back of the eye. When this meshwork is functioning the fluid flows out smoothly. Sometimes the fluid moves too slowly out of the eye, however, and pressure begins to build up around the optic nerve.
The optic nerve will start to deteriorate from the constant pressure, which leads to glaucoma. Unfortunately, glaucoma can cause irreversible damage and loss of vision if not treated.
Read on to learn what glaucoma is and how to prevent and protect yourself, a parent or senior loved one, as well as what treatment options may be available to you and your family.
The Symptoms of Glaucoma
Many people can have glaucoma without any symptoms or vision changes. There will gradually be a loss of peripheral vision as glaucoma progresses, meaning that over time, the vision out of the side of the eyes will begin to deteriorate and appear as if you are looking through a tube or tunnel.
The National Eye Institute states that glaucoma can best be detected with a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Not everybody who has increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma. You can also have glaucoma without increased eye pressure, which is called low-tension glaucoma.
Undiagnosed and untreated glaucoma causes more vision loss than any other disease in the world. The good news is that vision loss as a result of glaucoma can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment.
Ways to Prevent Glaucoma in the Elderly
According to the National Eye Institute, the best way to prevent damage from glaucoma is to have a complete eye exam, including eye dilation, every one to two years. When your eye care professional detects high eye pressure, they can assist you in starting treatment to slow the development of glaucoma. This can save your vision.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that these risk factors may increase your risk of getting glaucoma:
- African, Asian or Hispanic heritage
- Being far or nearsighted
- Family history of glaucoma
- Having had an eye injury
- High eye pressure
- Older than 40
- Thin areas around the optic nerve
- Thin corneas
- Use of steroid medications
If you or your senior loved one has more than one of these risk factors there may be a higher risk of glaucoma. Talking to an eye care professional can help your family develop a treatment plan.
Ways to Treat Glaucoma
Beginning treatment for glaucoma right away can slow down the loss of vision. Typical treatments include medication, laser trabeculoplasty or surgery.
Unfortunately, although these treatments can preserve vision they will not repair the damage that has already occurred.
1. Eye drops.
Eye drops are the most common form of treatment for glaucoma. The drops are used to lower the pressure within your eye either by reducing the amount of fluid or helping the fluid to drain. For the eye drops to work effectively, they need to be taken regularly! Many people can forget to take glaucoma medication because they do not have symptoms.
2. Laser trabeculoplasty.
This is a type of surgery performed with a laser in your doctor’s office or eye clinic. A high-intensity laser is used to form bigger holes in the meshwork of the eye to help the fluid to drain more efficiently. Usually, only one eye is treated at a time.
The National Eye Institute states that surgery will often be recommended if medications or laser trabeculoplasty are not working to reduce eye pressure.
Conventional surgery works by making a new opening in the eye to drain fluid out. Surgery is usually only done on one eye at a time and can take four to six weeks to heal.
The thought of being diagnosed with glaucoma can be scary but early prevention and sticking to your treatment plan can help prevent further loss of vision.
What has your experience with glaucoma been like? What are you doing to prevent glaucoma in the elderly? We would like to hear from you in the comments below.
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