Unexpected ways to keep your eyes healthy as you age

Need a new pair of frames?

Mediterranean foods? Skydiving? Beach umbrellas? Holding a piece of graph paper in front of your face once a day?

Some of the strategies you can use to improve your vision health or to make the most of your eyesight after age-related vision loss may seem completely unfamiliar or even a little strange.

But that’s part of the message about eye health for people who are 50 and older: There are lots of strategies you can employ at different stages of eye health, but they only work for those who know about them.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology provide an extra incentive, with a study that predicted a 350% increase in visual impairment in those 80 and older by 2050, and a 150% increase in diabetic retinopathy in adults 40 and older in that period.

To prevent such outcomes, check out these five eye health tactics, along with a strategy for coping with age-related vision loss:

Use sunglasses to block UV rays

If you’ve had decades of thinking sunglasses were there to keep glare out of your eyes and look cool, it may be time to add a third function. When you wear glasses that block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays, you can stave off eye damage, physician Cheryl Khanna explained on the Mayo Clinic blog.

“Radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye,” she said. “UV exposure also contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts, growths on the eye and possibly macular degeneration.”

Read the label for assurances of UV-protection, rather than relying on how dark the lenses are, since that’s not really an indicator.

Eat Mediterranean food

A Coimbra eye study of 883 people who were 55 or older in Portugal found that a Mediterranean-type diet, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables, lean meat and less dairy, could hold the key to resisting AMD.

Stop smoking

According to the Mayo Clinic, while “no studies have proved how to prevent cataracts or slow the progression of cataracts,” smoking cessation is highly likely a good preventive measure.

Take the Amsler Grid vision test daily

Our bodies tend to just slowly get used to loss of capacity. To stay aware of potential age-related macular degeneration, the American Association of Ophthalmology cited a testing tool called an Amsler grid.

To use one to determine if you have vision changes that aren’t obvious, use the grid available here. Then, each day, hold the printout about a foot from your face while you’re in good light and wearing any lenses you use for reading.

Follow the directions for covering first one eye and then the other and focusing on the center of the grid. You’ll soon see if your perception of the grid has altered in a way that indicates AMD.

Drink more caffeine to prevent dry eye syndrome?

According to a 2012 study, caffeine, which increases tear production, may help with dry eye. The study found that only about 13% of people who incorporated caffeinated beverages into their daily menu had dry eye symptoms, compared to 17% of the study subjects who did not use caffeine.

Do more with the vision you’ve got left

Those who weren’t able to prevent vision loss can still take steps to reclaim their active lives, according to Angie Clawson, spokesperson for the Center for the Visually Impaired, a nonprofit that is Georgia’s largest service provider for those who are blind or have visual impairments.

This is especially true when people have exhausted their medical options with conditions like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration.

“A lot of people simply don’t realize they do not have to sit at home, that there are training and tools that can help them do the things they used to be able to do when they had full sight,” Angie Hawley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Life does not have to be limited because you have low vision if you’re willing to learn some skills and make some adjustments,” she added. Training can help the vision-impaired learn new skills and tap into products that allow them to once again read, make coffee, handle their own bills and perhaps walk the dog.

Staff at CVI recommend reaching out for vision-loss training and tools sooner, not later, ideally while vision remains, but possible treatments are coming to a close. “Typically a doctor will say, ‘There’s nothing more I can do, this is what vision you’re going to have’ and then those people come to us,” Clawson added. “But for seniors, in particular, it’s easier to learn some of these maneuvers while you can still see.”

It’s also good to know what options are available, long before you need them: It may create a more hopeful view of life with vision loss. “Really, the sky is the limit,” Clawson said. “Literally, in some cases. We had one vision-impaired woman who was 80 and learned these methods so well she felt comfortable going sky diving with her granddaughter!”

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