Different Types and Levels of Blindness in Older Adults
October is World Blindness Month, and this week’s blog will focus on the different types and levels of blindness in older adults. It’s not uncommon for us to care for individuals in hospice in Alameda County and elsewhere who suffer from some level of blindness.
Vision loss affects people of all ages, but most people with vision impairment and some level of blindness are over the age of 50. Globally, 2.2 billion people have a near- or distance-vision impairment, with the leading causes being refractive errors and cataracts, according to the World Health Organization. In the elderly specifically, one in three has some form of vision impairment by the age of 65, with the most common causes in seniors being age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, says the NIH.
There are different types of blindness, as well as levels, in older adults. Let’s take a look at common age-related eye problems.
Blindness and Low Vision
Blindness, in all its varying degrees, can result from infections, genetic conditions, accidents, and diseases. Blindness levels can range from partial vision and seeing shapes to complete loss of vision. Some cases can be cured or even prevented, while others cannot. By definition, blindness is a lack of vision, or the inability to see. In severe cases, the person can’t even see light. Blindness usually makes it impossible to correct vision with traditional methods, such as contact lenses, eyeglasses, eye drops, medical therapy, or surgery. Usually, vision loss is gradual. If you experience sudden vision loss, this is considered an emergency and you should get immediate medical help.
Types of blindness include:
- Partial: Known as low vision, this is when you still retain some vision.
- Complete: This is when you cannot see or detect light, and it’s very rare.
- Congenital: This is the type of poor vision that you have been born with, due to inherited eye conditions as well as non-inherited birth defects.
- Legal: You are considered legally blind if your central vision is 20/200 when corrected with glasses or contact lenses. If you have 20/200 vision, you must be 10x closer to an object to see it, or the object has to be 10x larger for you to see it compared with a person who has 20/20 vision, says the Cleveland Clinic.
- Nutritional: This type of vision loss is caused by a vitamin A deficiency, making it difficult to see at night or in dim light.
What about color blindness, you ask? Well, color blindness, or color deficiency, is not considered blindness in the traditional sense. This is when a person perceives colors in a different way. It can be inherited or you may acquire it through disease or damage to the retina or optic nerve. Achromatopsia is when a person can only see black, white or gray.
Vision Loss in Seniors
The most common forms of blindness in older adults include the following.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
This is an eye disease that blurs the central vision, and is due to the aging process causing damage to the macula. This is the area of your eye that is responsible for controlling sharp, straight-forward vision, and is part of the retina. This is quite common in older adults and is actually the top cause of vision loss in older adults. While it doesn’t lead to complete blindness, it does make it more difficult to see faces, drive, read, or perform close-up, task-oriented work. It can come on slowly over time or it can happen quickly. It’s common for people in the early stages of AMD to not have any symptoms of vision loss. Regular eye exams are critical in detecting this condition early so it can be treated.
The leading cause of blindness, cataracts account for 50 percent of blindness worldwide, according to the NIH. Our eyes have natural lenses that help to refract light and help us see. They are normally clear but as we age, they can become cloudy. Some vision changes you may notice with this condition include:
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Ghosted images
- Light sensitivity
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Bright colors appear faded or yellow
People over age 60 are especially at risk for glaucoma, which is a grouping of eye diseases that can result in vision loss and blindness. This happens as a result of damage to the optic nerve. Symptoms come on very slowly, which means many people don’t even know they have it. A comprehensive dilated eye exam can tell you if you have glaucoma. While there is no cure, early treatment can halt the damage while protecting your vision.
This eye condition can cause vision loss and blindness in those with diabetes, affecting the blood vessels in the retina. It’s important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once annually if you suffer from diabetes.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
From aides and social workers to nurses and physicians, our hospice program offers a variety of caregivers and specialties to keep your loved one as comfortable as possible. Learn more when you get in touch with our team at 888-978-1306.