February 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Glaucoma can sneak up on elders

by Dorian Martin

Aging can take a toll on a body. Take the eyes, for instance. Both of my parents had to have surgery for cataracts when they were in their 70s and 80s. Fortunately, the surgeries went well, but both were worried about the chance of losing their sight from the condition or from the surgery. Yet there’s another type of eye condition that can equally be as devastating — glaucoma.

More than 2.2 million Americans are estimated to have glaucoma, but only half are aware they have it, the Glaucoma Research Foundation reports. Glaucoma is considered the second most common cause of blindness, accounting for between 9 and 12 percent of all cases. There is currently no cure for the condition, and there might be no warning symptoms, so early testing and treatment are vital.

What is glaucoma?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. This condition manifests as four major types:

  1. Open-angle (chronic)
  2. Angle-closure (acute)
  3. Congenital
  4. Secondary

Of these, open-angle glaucoma accounts for approximately 90 percent of all diagnosed cases. Health professionals do not know the cause of this type of glaucoma, which results in an increase in eye pressure that occurs slowly over time. This type of glaucoma often runs in families. The Glaucoma Research Foundation notes a higher risk for certain individuals, for example, if they are over the age of 60 years, have diabetes or are severely near-sighted. Also at greater risk of developing this condition are African Americans and those with a family history of glaucoma.

A sneaky condition

Most people who are developing open-angle glaucoma do not realize it since they experience a slow loss of their side vision, which leaves them with tunnel vision. Once vision loss occurs, the damage to the eye can already be severe. As glaucoma advances, it can lead to blindness.

The only way to determine if an elder is getting glaucoma is through regular eye examinations. If the eye doctor makes this diagnosis, a preventative treatment plan is started to help protect the elder’s vision by reducing eye pressure. Most people with open-angle glaucoma are successfully treated with eye drops. In addition, the elder may be given medication that can lower the pressure in the eye. If needed, other treatments can include laser therapy or eye surgery.

So is any treatment particularly better than another one? In February 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force cited a report analyzing numerous studies and collective reviews on open-angle glaucoma. A group of independent experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine found that both medical and surgical treatments for this type of glaucoma lower eye pressure and reduce the risk of damage to the optic nerve over the short and medium term. However, they were unable to determine which treatment is the best in order to prevent loss of sight and improve patient-reported outcomes.

Eye health — a priority for anyone

Various studies have explored the importance of eye health and possible links to other diseases. A 2010 blog post discussed research showing that Alzheimer’s disease had a visible effect on the human retina. You can also refer to an article about the main vision concerns for seniors, or another blog post on the importance of eye health for everyone, including elders, caregivers, family and friends.

Posted in Caregiving, Health | 3 Comments »
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3 Comments to “Glaucoma can sneak up on elders”

  1. ECL Staff

    Thanks so much for writing in and sharing your challenges and what you have learned from the experience. Best wishes for you and your mother.

  2. Donna

    I wanted to stress how important it is to have regular eye checkups and to stay on top of taking drops if you or your elder has glaucoma. It can be a very destructive disease. It’s hereditary and can absolutely sneak on an individual. Over my family’s generations there has been many relatives who have lost their site due to this disease. My mom is one of them. She is now 77 and completely blind. We moved in together so I can better take care of her. It’s been a huge life changing experience for both my family and my mom. Taking care of an elderly blind person is not an easy chore especial when it’s your mom. It’s not a mother daughter relationship…it’s more of a daughter mother relationship. In more cases it feels like I have another child with a disability.

    In the process of going to multiple surgeons I have found that I too have high pressure. So I am now on drops to prevent glaucoma. Better caught earlier than later. My pressure is normal again and so far have no issues. But I will be on these drops for the rest of my life and in the process getting prepared for the worst case scenario. Luckily I have a mom who has been through it and know what to do and not to do. Learn from others and follow best practices.

  3. Phil Willis

    Thanks for the timely reminder of the importance of glaucoma testing.
    Appreciate the blog post.

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