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Older Eyes Require More Checkups

The human eye is ever changing. In general, as people age, the chances of developing an eye disease — such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma — increase, and so does the need to have eye exams.

"After age 40, people should have an eye exam every year," said Dr. Hope Snively, an optometrist with the Northern Virginia Doctors of Optometry in Reston. "At some point, everybody will need some kind of glasses."

For seniors, it becomes important to have their eyes checked routinely, not only because of vision changes but also because the tests performed by optometrists can help detect other medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke.

"It's not so much the tests we do," said Dr. Howard Kahn, an optometrist in Burke. "It's just that they're more in depth. We're looking for certain problems. For example, in an older person, we would expect to see glaucoma, whereas we wouldn't expect it in a 12-year-old, although it could happen."

THE NEED FOR DOCTORS to dilate the eyes during an exam also increases with age. Snively said the pupil gets smaller as people age, and by dilating the eye, the optometrist can get more light into the pupil. The light helps the doctors see into the eye and observe the blood vessels and thereby see telltale signs of diseases.

"We can pick up systemic problems," Snively said.

While aging is inevitable, proper nutrition is believed to act as a preventative measure for certain diseases.

Kahn said that while there are no conclusive studies, "it is believed that vitamins A and E can help prevent the formation of macular degeneration." He also said the proper balance of minerals and vitamins can always be helpful.

The proper eye protection also goes a long way in keeping older eyes healthy.

"Always wear eye protection," Kahn said, regardless of age. "You should wear glasses with UV-absorbent lenses. It can be sunglasses or glasses that are treated for UV absorption."

THE AMERICAN OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION suggests that sunglasses' lenses should be dark enough that the eye cannot be seen through them and that eyeglasses should be treated with an anti-reflective coating, which can be particularly helpful when driving at night because it will prevent glare from oncoming headlights.

Snively said age does not present a limitation on the type of vision correction a patient chooses, as long as the choice is appropriate for meeting the patient's needs.

"We have hundreds of [older] patients that wear contacts," she said. "We also have many patients that have had the laser surgery. Age doesn't limit a patient’s options."