Cataracts in the Elderly

At the front of the eye is a lens that is normally clear and transparent. Light easily flows through this lens and what is seen is distinct and sharp. This lens is made up of a combination of protein and water. The protein typically stays in place and keeps the lens clear.

In the elderly, however, the protein may form clumps and become sticky. These clumps of protein cause cloudy areas in the lens that can be similar to trying to look through a window that has a smear of grease. There can be blurry areas as well as clear areas. Some people will have overall blurry vision.

When the lens of the eye is blocked there is less light that will enter the eye, causing blurriness and cloudiness. The protein can also cause a brownish-yellow tint to objects.

Cataract Symptoms

Cataracts usually start out small and there may be only a small area of blurry vision. As the cataract grows, however, vision can become more limited.

Symptoms that are commonly seen with cataracts are:

  • Blurry or cloudy vision
  • Colors looking faded or muted
  • Difficulty seeing clearly at night
  • Double vision
  • Frequently changing eyeglass prescription
  • Light that can feel too bright
  • Rings around lights

Cataracts often appear gradually. The initial symptoms can usually be managed with new glasses, more light while reading, wearing sunglasses or using a magnifying lens to read small print.

Ways to Prevent and Treat Cataracts in the Elderly

Cataracts are a condition that commonly occurs in seniors.

Though we may not be able to completely prevent cataracts in the elderly, there are a few strategies that can be used to keep our eyes healthy.

6 Ways to Prevent Cataracts

  1. Eat a diet high in fruits and green leafy vegetables. Good nutrition is important for maintaining the health of the eyes. The National Eye Institute states a diet high in antioxidants may slow the development of cataracts.
  2. Have eyes checked regularly to find cataracts.
  3. Limit alcohol use. The Mayo Clinic reports that drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of cataracts.
  4. Manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
  5. Protect the eyes. The eyes are vulnerable to damage from the sun. The ultraviolet rays can lead to faster development of cataracts. When out in the sun, make sure to wear a hat with a brim and sunglasses.
  6. Quit smoking. Smoking limits the amount of oxygen to sensitive areas like the eyes and causes faster vision loss.

Ways to Treat Cataracts

The most common treatment for cataracts is surgery. The CDC estimates that over 6.1 million North Americans have had cataract surgery. The National Eye Institute states that cataract removal is the most common operation done in the United States, as well as the most effective and safest.

If you, a parent or senior loved one have symptoms or have been diagnosed with cataracts you will want to discuss surgery with your eye care professional. Many people may choose to delay surgery unless the vision loss is causing difficulties with activities like driving, reading and socializing.

90% of people who have cataract surgery experience improved vision.

Cataract surgery is often done as an outpatient procedure. The eye is numbed but the patient may still be awake. The cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a permanent artificial lens. When cataracts are present in both eyes, two separate surgery dates will be booked.

Recovery time is estimated at 6-8 weeks. Your loved one may benefit from additional help during the recovery time, including help with household chores, meal preparation and taking prescription eyedrops. Remember that blurred vision immediately following the surgery is common, but as the eye adjusts to the artificial lens, vision will often become brighter and clearer.