The number of aging Americans with significant age-related vision loss is expected to double by 2030, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.
Indeed, multiple studies indicate that the vast majority of people who are legally blind (having a visual acuity of 20/200 or less, or a visual filed that is limited to 20 degrees or less) are elderly individuals suffering from the most-common age-related eye diseases including; glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
Even the eyes of younger baby boomers aren't immune from the issues of aging. People between the ages of 45 and 64 years old were twice as likely to experience vision loss, when compared to younger populations, according to the 2011 National Health Interview Survey.
The good news is that there are ways to safeguard your eyes against the ravages of aging and prevent the progression of certain vision-robbing ailments.
Here are 6 simple vision protection tips from the experts:
- Stick to an exercise regimen: Engaging in a regular workout program provides countless health benefits—from cardiovascular to cognitive. Physical activity can also help keep your eyes healthy. By breaking a sweat three or more times each week, adults middle-aged and older could experience up to a 70 percent reduction in risk for developing age-related macular degeneration, according to a 2006 University of Wisconsin study.
- Up your antioxidants: Food plays an important role in preventing everything from cataracts to age-related macular degeneration. Antioxidant-rich foods offer many health benefits, vision protection being one of them. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and essential fatty acids are all key nutrients for maintaining good eyesight as you age. Vitamins C and E—found in abundance in green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), berries, citrus fruits, nuts and sweet potatoes—can help guard against damage from free radicals and can lower your chances of developing cataracts. The lutein and zeaxanthin in green, leafy vegetables and eggs may reduce the risk of multiple age-related eye diseases. Fatty acids (especially the omega-3s in walnuts, salmon and soybeans) and zinc (oysters, dark chocolate and peanuts) are important for maintaining the structural health and integrity of the tissues in your eyes.
- Rock some shades: The damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation aren't limited to your skin. If left unprotected, UVA and UVB rays can harm your eyes and contribute to the formation of cataracts. When you're out in the sun (even in the wintertime), it's important to wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat for full protection from harmful radiation. Opt for lenses that offer 100 percent UV protection and be aware that this is not a feature offered by all types of sunglasses. Polarized, mirror-coated, blue-blocking and photochromatic lenses have different features that can make it easier to see in bright sunlight, but they don't all automatically block UV rays.
- Stay away from smoke: Smoking can up a person's risk for multiple chronic health conditions, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, according to the Office of the Surgeon General. Just one more reason why you should quit smoking or, better yet, never even start.
- Keep blood sugar and pressure in check: Fluctuating blood sugar and blood pressure levels can harm the miniscule blood vessels in the retina, potentially leading to vision problems, and even blindness. Diabetics and those with high blood pressure should take care to keep their levels in check to preserve the health of their eyes.
- Give over-exerted eyes a break: Americans spend much of their time in front of a computer screen, which puts a lot of pressure on our peepers. If you while away the days staring at a digital screen, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests adhering to the 20-20-20 rule to cut down on the potentially damaging effects eye strain. Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds staring at a spot 20 feet in front of you (at the opposite wall, or out the window).
One final tip for anyone over 50 years of age: get an annual comprehensive eye exam.
Many age-related eye diseases have few or no symptoms in the beginning. You may not be able to feel something is wrong until it's too late. Going in each year to have your eyes fully-dilated and checked out is the best way to catch a problem before it steals your sight.