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Glaucoma In Seniors – World Glaucoma Week

Glaucoma in Seniors – World Glaucoma Week

Today, March 10, 2020, is part of World Glaucoma Week. This event is observed by many health organizations between March 8 and 14 of every year.

It was established by the World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and the World Glaucoma Patient Committee (WGPC).


world glaucoma week

The theme this year is “Green = Go get your eyes tested for Glaucoma: Save Your Sight!”. The goal of World Glaucoma Week is to spread awareness of the condition, and encourage people to get regular eye exams to detect glaucoma early.

Glaucoma in seniors is especially common, meaning that the elderly are at a higher risk for vision loss. The AAFP estimates that, in the US, approximately 75% of people who are legally blind due to glaucoma are seniors.

Additionally, experts believe that half of the people with glaucoma aren’t even aware that they have it. This is because it often goes diagnosed and untreated until it’s too late.


How Does Glaucoma Affect Canadian Seniors?

Glaucoma is actually a group of eye conditions, not just one. They all affect the optic nerve, causing irreversible damage to vision.

There is a fluid that flows between between the iris and cornea. When this fluid doesn’t circulate properly, it causes abnormally high pressure in the eye. This causes glaucoma, and can lead to partial or even full blindness in seniors.

There is very little information on the number of Canadian seniors who have glaucoma. The most recent study, in 2002-2003, found that around 2.7% of Canadians aged 40 and older had glaucoma – that accounts for around 409,000 Canadians, most of whom are likely elderly. This number is estimated to be much higher today, because of the aging population.

It’s estimated that this condition could affect as many as 111 million people worldwide in the next twenty years.

glaucoma in seniors

What are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?

Age is one of the largest risk factors. Those over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of developing some form of the condition. Other risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Sex (it is more common in women than men).
  • Family history.
  • Nearsightedness (myopia).
  • Eye injury/trauma.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Extended use of corticosteroids.


What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma in Seniors?

One of the biggest reasons glaucoma is so dangerous is that it often doesn’t present itself. That is to say, the symptoms come on so slowly that you may not notice them until it’s already too late.

The gradual onset means glaucoma has time to reach an advanced stage before most people realize they even have it. The symptoms of glaucoma in seniors will vary depending on what form of the condition you have. Some warning signs can include:

  • Pain in the eyes.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Patchy blind spots in the peripheral vision.
  • Tunnel vision.
  • Redness in the eyes.
  • Nausea/vomiting.

Again, most of these symptoms while only become apparent once the glaucoma has done irreversible damage.

While glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the elderly, it is also preventable. This means that spotting it early can prevent further damage, possibly saving your vision.

eye exam glaucoma

How Can Glaucoma in the Elderly Be Prevented?

It’s not clear what steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing glaucoma. It’s not a natural part of aging, however.

A study in 2007 found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids decreased pressure in the eyes, reducing the risk of glaucoma. The study also noted that, here in Canada and other Western countries, our diets are typically low in this omega-3 fatty acid.

In comparison, the typical Japanese diet (which contains plenty of seafood) has a lot of these acids. This is worth noting, because the eye pressure that causes glaucoma actually decreases with age in Japan. In Canada, the risk of developing glaucoma increases with age. It’s possible that the omega-3 rich foods can reduce the risk of glaucoma.

It’s only one study, however, and there aren’t many similar studies on humans. This means you should this info with a moderately-sized grain of salt. It’s still interesting to consider, though, as many diseases and conditions can be prevented by a proper, healthy diet.

The only definite way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma is to have regular eye exams.


How Often Should Seniors Get an Eye Exam?

After the age of 40, it’s recommended that you get an eye exam once every 2-4 years. You should get an annual exam after you reach the age of 60. If you have a family history of glaucoma,you should get a full eye exam every year starting much earlier, around the age of 50.

The exams to diagnose glaucoma include:

  • Tonometry (measuring the pressure in your eye).
  • A visual test (such as the famous letter chart).
  • A dilated eye exam.

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you’ll most likely need treatment for the rest of your life.


glaucoma in the elderly canada

How is Glaucoma in the Elderly Treated?

Right now, there is no cure for glaucoma. The condition can only be controlled so it doesn’t get worse and lead to serious vision loss. The treatment usually consists of daily eye drops and oral medications.

Laser surgery is also an option. This type of treatment makes it easier for fluid to leave the eyes, reducing pressure. This can also be done through minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS).

If left untreated, glaucoma can completely destroy central vision, causing blindness. That’s why it’s crucial that, once diagnosed, you take the prescribed medications regularly.

Memory issues in the elderly can increase the risk of missing medications. The damage that glaucoma causes is irreversible, so it’s essential to take the prescribed treatments daily. A family member or qualified caregiver should help your loved one take their glaucoma drops or medications every day.

If you need help for you or an elderly member of your family, contact Complete Care Coordination today. We can provide caregivers to help with everything from accompaniment to doctor’s appointments to monitoring medications.

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