Adrian Cordiner –
Eye health and the aging process
Vision is one element of our health that we expect will deteriorate with age, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare finding that 95% of Australians aged over 55 will experience eye problems or eye diseases. However, that is no reason to become complacent about common, long-term eye problems such as deteriorating vision. Having your eyes tested regularly is important for many reasons other than the occasional new pair of glasses. Our organs do not work in isolation, and the state of your eye health can provide medical professionals with insight into areas of your health which you may otherwise not realize require attention, including your mental health, vascular health and brain health. Read on to find out what your eye health can tell you about other parts of your body and mind.
The link between eye health and other diseases
We know that eye testing can detect problems with vision and eye disease, but did you know that eye tests can also detect systemic diseases within the body? For example, cataracts may indicate the presence of undertreated diabetes, while almost 16% of patients with optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) will go on to develop multiple sclerosis. Comprehensive eye tests can alert doctors to these warning signs before diseases are fully developed.
The link between eye health and mental health
According to M.D. Vincent Young of the American Medical Association, our vision is linked strongly to our mood – the more clearly we can see, the better our mood. Inversely, if our vision is impaired, this is likely to cause frustration, disorientation and have a negative impact on our mental health. People with poor vision are 2.3 times more likely to develop clinical depression. Furthermore, certain eye traits are common among sufferers of particular mental health conditions. Tests have found that people with bipolar disorder are slower to switch their gaze from one image to another, and have reduced responsiveness to darkly lit settings. Similarly, people with schizophrenia have been shown to find the “smooth” visual tracking of objects with their eyes more challenging than people who do not have schizophrenia.
The link between eye health and brain health
Eye tests can reveal dementia warning signs such as cataracts, thinning of the nerves in the retina and unusually high sensitivity to pupil dilation drugs. Regular eye tests can also measure the rate of cell death in your eyes, another warning sign if it is occurring more rapidly than is considered normal. Research has shown that seniors with poor vision are five times more likely to experience a decline in cognitive ability, and those who leave it untreated are 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Research conducted by the University of California found that women aged over 69 with retinopathy (damage to the retina) also performed less successfully on cognitive testing, and displayed more vascular (vessel) damage within the brain than women without retinopathy. The author of the study, Dr. Mary Haan, concluded, “This could be very useful if a simple eye screening could give us an early indication that people might be at risk of problems with their brain health and functioning.”
Eye tests and early intervention
As age increases, so should the regularity of your eye tests, says the Glaucoma Research Foundation. People aged 55 and over should be having their eyes tested every one-to-two years, while people over 65 should increase regularity to every six-to-12 months. Not only can regular and thorough eye testing help you protect your vision, it can also help you protect your cognitive, brain, mental, vascular and systemic health.
Adrian is a freelance writer who has recently been doing some work for OPSM Australia. Some of his passions include business, marketing, and technology. In his spare time you will find him outdoors enjoying Sydney’s beautiful weather while training for his next marathon. Contact email: [email protected].