An unwelcome gift of aging when many turn 50 is the need for reading glasses.
This age-related loss of near vision, which occurs when our eye muscles lose their ability to focus, can affect those who have never had eye problems before.
This can disrupt the normal ease with which you once could go about everyday tasks, such as being able to read the ingredients on cans, the numbers on food stickers when you go out on your own, read a good novel or read the news on your smartphone.
Most head to the nearest drugstore or any of the dollar stores to get a few pairs of over-the-counter readers to put anywhere and everywhere they might be needed, like one pair on the kitchen counter, another on the nightstand, and one for the car.
“Between 45 and 50, pretty much everyone reaches a point where they need reading glasses,” said Dr. Lana Heckman, who practices at Premier Optical at Target Optical in Wyomissing, Berks County. “They’ve had good eyesight all their lives and then suddenly they can’t read.”
This is the time when many are headed to the eye doctor, so Heckman is used to seeing a lot of patients of this age.
“Often they’re getting their vision checked for the first time in a very long time,” she said.
Nancy Niggel, 59, discovered that vision loss began in her 40s.
“When I was taking care of my children, it became difficult for me to look at things up close, like looking for ticks,” said Niggel, who lives in Limerick, Montgomery County, and works as an executive director at Chester Springs, Chester County. director of the Chester Spring Library.
Niggel had to start wearing goggles over her contact lenses, which she had been wearing since ninth grade. Now it is equipped with many pairs of readers.
“You just have to have them somewhere close at hand at all times,” she said. “You should have one pair in each room.”
Now that she’s older, Niggel, who maintains her eye health by visiting an optometrist at the Walmart Vision Center once a year, assesses her day ahead of time to figure out the best plan to support her vision.
“If I know I’m going to do a craft or tell a story today and I need to be really focused, I’ll wear my glasses because I have progressive bifocals,” Nigel said. “I used to feel my contacts were better, but now I prefer glasses when I know I’ll be doing close-ups all day.”
If you’re experiencing age-related vision problems for the first time, Heckman said it’s ideal to see an eye doctor for a variety of reasons, despite the common desire of many to seek the quick fix of drugstore readers.
“I think people are grasping at the wrong powers,” she said. “Also, the quality isn’t always the best, and that can lead to headaches because they don’t fit you.”
Other issues may include the individual needing a different prescription for each eye, or may have astigmatism, which must be considered in addition to other possible considerations.
“You need a different strength for a computer and for reading the fine print,” she said.
Heckman said people are coming in later than in previous years thanks to technology that helps them with their near vision.
“They enlarge the text on their phones or Kindles or take a picture of the text and enlarge it,” she said. “I think it’s happened in recent years because everyone has smartphones.”
After the first visit to an optometrist or ophthalmologist, Heckman suggests the frequency of return visits based on age and medical history.
“If at the age of 50, they should go in a year if they don’t notice a change,” she said. “If they are 60 or older, they should come every one to two years regardless of whether they have vision problems.”
A basic eye exam and eye disease screening can help rule out eye diseases common in adults age 40 and older, giving you a better chance of early treatment and saving your vision.
Not all vision changes are related to age alone. Heckman shared some of the issues to look out for that need immediate attention.
“Eye pain, floaters, chronic irritation, dry eyes, flashes of light,” she said. “All of these can be signs of an underlying condition, such as retinal problems, cataracts or glaucoma.
“Glaucoma is one of the main reasons why you should get your eyes checked because it’s asymptomatic, but once detected it can be treated. If left untreated, it can lead to vision loss or blindness.”
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that causes symptoms and can lead to blindness if left untreated.
“It’s a loss of central vision that’s common in seniors 65 and older,” she said. “That’s why it’s a good idea to come in to have your retina checked for macular degeneration, retinal holes, tears and detachments.”
For more information on age-related vision loss and eye disease, visit:
American Academy of Optometry: www.aaopt.org
American Academy of Ophthalmology: www.aao.org