Your Changing Vision: What to Know as You Age
(Guest post by friend of Riverstone, June Duncan of Rise Up for Caregivers)
As you age, your chances of developing vision loss or eye diseases increase. One in three adults has some type of vision impairment by age 65, according to AgingCare.com, and many more will develop vision and eye health problems later in their senior years. Your changing vision can be a frustrating part of aging, but it shouldn’t hold you back from living an enriching life.
Vision loss puts seniors at risk of falls, car accidents, and other safety threats. That’s a big part of why annual vision checks are so important, but it’s not the only reason to schedule eye health appointments. Annual eye exams are also when your doctor screens for eye diseases that could lead to severe visual impairment and blindness if left untreated.
Despite the importance of vision care for seniors, many vision benefits are not covered under standard Medicare benefits. Here’s what seniors need to know about vision care after 65.
How to Get Vision Coverage as a Senior
Your Medicare Part B benefits include eye health screenings, including tests for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. However, Original Medicare won’t cover vision exams for eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Seniors have a few options to pay for routine eye exams:
Self-pay — Paying for vision care out-of-pocket saves on insurance premiums but leads to higher bills at the optometrist’s office.
Standalone vision insurance — Standalone vision insurance policies typically cover an annual eye exam and annual allowances for eyeglasses and/or contact lenses. NerdWallet notes that seniors looking into standalone policies should do the math to make sure their policy actually saves them money over paying cash.
Medicare Advantage — Also known as Medicare Part C, Medicare Advantage includes vision benefits such as eye exams and glasses or contact lenses. In many cases, supplemental benefits like vision and dental coverage come without any additional cost beyond your Part B premium.
Vision Changes and Eye Health Problems to Watch For
Even with regular vision care, some age-related vision changes are unavoidable. As you age, these are some of the normal changes you may notice affecting your vision:
- Difficulty focusing your eyes, especially up close
- Needing more light to see clearly
- Taking longer to adjust to sudden lighting changes
- Reduced sensitivity to color, making it harder to distinguish objects from backgrounds
- Dry eyes
Vision changes like these happen because of normal changes to the eye’s structure and aren’t cause for alarm. As you age, your pupils become smaller, retinal cells age, and the eye’s vitreous starts to pull away from the retina. The diminished visual acuity that results can be accommodated with corrective lenses and changes at home. However, it may be a sign of a more serious problem if you’re experiencing any of the following vision changes:
- Dark spots in your visual field
- Double vision
- Cloudy or hazy vision
- Floaters accompanied by flashes of light
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Distorted vision, such as straight lines appearing wavy
- Fluctuating visual acuity or sudden vision loss
How to Accommodate Vision Changes as You Age
If you’re lucky and stay on top of vision care, you won’t experience serious eye health problems as a senior. However, you’ll still need to make lifestyle changes as your vision changes.
At home, add more lighting and aim to keep the lighting as uniform room-to-room as possible. Pairing ambient lighting with task lighting creates the layers of light you need to see clearly, whether you’re walking around, reading a book, or cooking dinner. It’s also important to reduce clutter around the house; between vision and mobility changes, it’s harder to see and react to obstacles. A clutter-free home means a lower fall risk.
Seniors should also be mindful of when it’s time to stop driving. As hard as it is to give up your driving privileges, it’s always best to put safety first for you and for others.
It’s no fun realizing your body doesn’t work like it used to. However, age-related vision changes shouldn’t take the joy out of your senior years. By keeping up with eye exams and adapting to accommodate changing vision, you can protect your eyes and your independence.
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