Helping Your Eyes Age Gracefully
"The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple of decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in history."
There’s no better time to discuss the topic of aging than the month of September, which is Healthy Aging Month. As we all know, experience certainly comes with age, but unfortunately, so does a bit of cynicism. Rarely a day goes by (in private practice) where I won’t receive a snarky comment about the aging process from an older patient. It’s usually something like, “I wish I was your age,” or “Don’t get too old now,” or “Stay young as long as you can.” My response is simply, “I’d rather get older than the alternative.” I guess you can read between the lines on that one.
At this point, it’s pretty safe to assume the inevitability of the aging process. In other words, aging is something we’ll all likely go through. Now, I’m not claiming to have all of the answers. However, the right attitude and a positive approach might help to ease not only my own mind, but the minds of others around me (family, friends, co-workers, etc).
Maintaining vision is a significant part of healthy aging:
There are several ways to help your eyes age gracefully. The most important aspect of maintaining healthy vision is to check in with your eye doctor on a yearly basis (or as needed). Your annual eye exam is vital to the early detection of age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. If cataracts are caught early enough, successful surgery can be performed. However, glaucoma and macular degeneration cannot be cured. Vision loss associated with these two diseases can only be treated and slowed as much as possible. The early detection of these harmful diseases is key in keeping our vision intact, and preserving our eyes into our later years will help us to maintain independence as much as possible.
Low vision aides are another great resource to assist with the aging process. During your annual eye exam, your eye doctor can help you find a low vision specialist, especially if you’re experiencing vision loss from a stroke, glaucoma or macular degeneration. Your low vision doctor knows the best ways maximize your remaining vision and to keep you independent. He/she will help you decide if you should be using high-powered reading glasses, hand (or stand) held magnifiers, telescope glasses or computer-like screen projectors used to magnify print on bills, letters, books or newspapers. Also, if you’re diagnosed with a potentially vision threatening disease, it’s best to learn how to use these tools as early as possible. The more vision loss you experience, the more difficult the use of these tools will become.
This next issue isn’t completely vision related, but it definitely helps to be cognizant of all the available modes of transportation today (i.e. Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing services). In large cities like New York, is not too difficult to catch a cab or take advantage of services such as Access-a-Ride. Just knowing you can make your appointments or events without having to drive should help to ease a bit of stress. You eye doctor knows that losing the ability to drive can be demoralizing, but knowing about these car services is almost essential in today’s day and age. You can also check with your insurance company to see if any funds can be allocated for transportation to and from medical appointments.
Understand yourself and what got you to this point:
According to the United States Census Bureau, “The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple of decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in history.” This means more people are reaching their golden years here in America than ever before. It also suggests that more and more people are figuring out how to stay healthy as a part of the aging process. If this happens to be you, keep sticking to the things that got you to this point, but don’t be afraid to tweak a few things not only for your benefit, but the benefit of those you love.
Speaking of those you love, your later years are a good time to stay connected or to possibly reconnect with family members. If you have a large family, then there’s more potential for reconnection. If you have grandchildren, you may even have your hands full. You never know where you’ll find a spark from socialization so it makes sense to keep your eyes open.
It also makes sense to stick with your time tested hobbies as you age. Maybe you’ve always been a runner, or a traveler, or an avid fisherman. Your older years are no excuse to give up on what you’re already good at. In fact, you can still get even better and gain more experience, especially if you’re retired and/or have more extra hours in your day.
If you find yourself with too much time on your hands, you may want to share your expertise with other people, and there are plenty of ways to accomplish this in today’s digital age. Social media has made it easier for people to connect from all over the world, and various social media platforms might fit your needs better than others. For instance, maybe you can start sharing pictures with your family on Instagram. Maybe you can contribute to trending topics on Twitter. You can even start a YouTube channel and teach people about the things you’re good at. However, if social media isn’t your thing, you can always teach (or take) a class, volunteer your time, or participate in a mentorship program.
Lastly, one major aspect to healthy aging is the concept of lifelong learning. The world is changing at such a rapid pace, it’s hard to keep up and it’s impossible to know everything. There’s always something new to figure out and there are several different ways to change your perception. Perhaps you can take some time to see what the younger generations are up to. You may find out they were just like you when you were younger. You can also try to understand the viewpoints of certain friends and family, even if you don’t always see eye to eye. Even if you feel your best days for learning are in the past, I’d encourage you to keep pushing forward because you never know what a new day will bring.