Each year, the American Optometric Association (AOA) declares March as national Save Your Vision Month, reminding patients, families, and caregivers that eye health is a critical component of overall good health.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of good eye health, especially in the skilled nursing facility setting where so much time and effort is already dedicated to maintaining and improving your residents’ quality of life. But caring for your residents’ eyes is about much more than just protecting their vision – poor eye health can lead to bigger problems down the road, like mental health issues and cognitive decline. And vision loss can also be a symptom of other chronic conditions that need swift management.
There are many steps a skilled nursing facility can take to help their residents manage and protect their eye health, but the most important one of all also happens to be the simplest – ensuring your residents get regular eye exams from an ophthalmologist.
Keep reading to learn more about how eye exams can help your facility safeguard your residents’ sight and improve their quality of life for years to come.
Vision Impairment and its Effects on Overall Health
One in three Americans will suffer from some type of vision loss or eye disease by age 65. And while declining vision may just be a nuisance for some, for many others – particularly residents receiving around-the-clock care in a skilled nursing facility – it can lead to serious consequences.
Studies have shown that vision loss can have a negative effect on mental health. As a resident’s vision becomes impaired, he or she may no longer be able to enjoy hobbies, like reading or watching television. Their ability to see obstacles may be affected, leading to decreased balance and stability and increasing their risk of being injured in a fall. They may no longer be able to accomplish some activities of daily living, affecting their sense of personal autonomy and encouraging cognitive decline. Ultimately, they may begin to experience feelings of social isolation.
Additionally, there are many chronic health conditions that, if not properly managed, may result in vision impairment. The National Eye Institute estimates that more than 40% of diabetic patients have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness. Vision loss can also be connected to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and vitamin deficiencies. Catching these issues as early as possible can help you better manage your residents’ long-term care – and help them retain their vision as long as possible.
The Benefits of Regular Eye Exams
Seniors who are 65 and older should receive a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, and those with known eye disease or other conditions causing vision loss may need to be seen even more frequently. During an eye exam, an ophthalmologist will look for common age-related eye diseases that lead to vision impairment, including:
A cataract occurs when proteins in the eye’s natural lens begin to break down, making the lens cloudy instead of clear. An eye exam may be able to identify clouding of the lenses years before any vision problems develop.
Glaucoma results from damage to the optic nerve, typically brought on by an increase of fluid in the front of the eye. It is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60, but can often be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment.
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD occurs when a part of the retina known as the macula is damaged. The leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, it results in loss of sight in the center of your field of vision while peripheral vision remains normal.
- Diabetic Retinopathy
High levels of sugar in the blood can cause damage to blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision impairment. It is critical to diagnose diabetic retinopathy as soon as possible because it can lurk undetected in its early stages and not present with symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced state.
Good eye health leads to improved overall health for the residents in your care. Including regular eye exams in your ongoing plan of care is a smart way to ensure that, with your help, each of your residents can achieve his or her best possible health outcomes.