8 Tips To Help You Prevent Vision Loss

Vision loss in Canada is projected to increase by a whopping 30 per cent over the next decade. Here, eight things you can do to protect your eyesight.

Vision loss is a growing problem. Currently, it’s estimated that half a million Canadians are living with significant vision loss, and with that number expected to increase by 30 per cent over the next decade, there isn’t any room for complacency.

Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) believes that addressing the problem involves a shift in attitude around vision loss as it relates to aging.

Instead of accepting vision loss as a natural part of getting older, she encourages older individuals to look at their vision as a part of their overall health.

“At each stage of life we have a range of functional abilities that enable us to contribute in a meaningful way and as we grow older our vision changes, just the same as our mobility changes,” Barratt says. “Being responsible and protecting our eyesight is part of how we keep healthy [while] aging.”

The findings from a 2018 study out of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine aligns with Barratt’s approach to vision care. The eight year longitudinal study published in the journal of the American Medical Association Opthamology found that worsening vision in older adults had a strong association with cognitive decline.

Vision loss or impairment can also have an adverse affect on mobility, preventing older adults from living independently.

Staying ahead of vision loss then, requires both a proactive and holistic approach to vision health.

Here, eight ways to address vision loss before it’s too late.

1. Check them regularly

According to the CNIB, 75 per cent of vision loss can be prevented or treated.

But as is the case with most conditions, early intervention is crucial. Serious eye conditions like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can be present without any noticeable symptoms.

This is why Dr. Barratt suggests a yearly screening for retinal diseases. “We’ve done a big study in diabetic retinopathy and ophthalmologists often say that the patient comes too late with a diagnosis,” Dr. Barratt says. “If you’re starting to experience changes, it’s probably too late. So there’s a window of opportunity.”

Changes in vision between screenings shouldn’t be ignored either.

2. Get involved

Your proactivity doesn’t end when you step into a doctor’s office. Dr. Barratt says it’s important to ask questions and make sure you understand any diagnosis you receive. Knowing what you can do to maintain or even improve your vision after a diagnosis can make a significant difference in your function as you age.

3. Trust what you feel

When it comes to changes in your vision no one knows better than you do. If you’re concerned with a recent change in your vision, insist on seeing a specialist.

“I trust my family doctor but my family doctor is not the specialist in retinal diseases,” Dr. Barrett explains. “The ophthalmologist is. I don’t go to an orthopaedic surgeon if I’ve got a brain tumour.”

4. Quit it

Quit smoking! Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness in Canadians over 50.

5. Stop drinking…mostly

Heavy alcohol consumption can increase your risk for cataracts but a study out of Iceland provided some relief for the moderate drinker. The Reykjav Eye Study found that both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers of alcohol had an increased risk of developing cataracts, while those who drank red wine in moderation had only half the risk.

6. Eat for your eyes

Generally, what’s good for your overall health is good for your eyes as well.

Unfortunately, the adverse is true too. Research shows that a high fat diet with little nutrients increases your risk of developing AMD.

Dr. Barratt suggests foods that are colourful like oranges, cantaloupes and carrots that are high in vitamin C and A which can help prevent AMD and cataracts.

A 2018 study out of the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Australia found that people who ate at least one serving of oranges every day had more than a 60% reduced risk of developing late macular degeneration 15 years later. Authors of the study attribute the preventative benefits to flavonoids contained in the fruit, which is a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent the disease.

Barratt also suggests leafy greens like spinach and collard greens which are high in zeaxanthin and lutein, which provide nutrients and antioxidants that are great for the macula—the central part of our vision that deteriorates with AMD.

For seafood lovers, fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids also contribute to the health of the macula.

7. Keep fit

Excess weight causes a whole gamut of health problems that can contribute to a retinal disease. The CNIB lists a sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure as risk factors for AMD.

Being overweight also increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among working age adults.

8. They’re not just a fashion statement

Long-term exposure to UV rays increases your risk of developing cataracts and AMD.

The CNIB recommends wearing a quality pair of sunglasses year round—even in cloudy weather—with 99 to 100 per cent UV A and B protection

They also say to ditch the fashionable aviators in favour of the larger sport models that wrap around the sides and provide more protection.