- Many eye conditions are more common in older people.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you keep good vision into older age.
- Optometrists are trained health professionals who can assess the health of your eyes and prescribe corrective lenses if needed.
- Regular visits to your optometrist are important to help identify and treat problems before they cause permanent vision loss.
- Eye conditions that are detected early may be easier to treat.
Many people associate older age with poorer vision. It’s true that there are many eye conditions which are more common in older age. However, there are many things you can do to help maintain good vision for life. Read on to learn more.
How do my eyes change as I get older?
As with other parts of your body, your eyes go through normal changes as you age.
Presbyopia is a vision problem where you may notice it is more difficult to read things that are close by. You need to hold things further away to see them clearly. Almost all people will experience this after about age 40.
Presbyopia happens because the lens at the front of the eye becomes less flexible as you age. This makes it more difficult to focus on nearby objects. Presbyopia is treated with reading glasses, which your optometrist can prescribe.
Some other eye conditions that are common in older age include:
Cataracts — this is a condition that affects the lens of the eye. The lens of the eye needs to be clear for you to have good vision. If a cataract develops, the lens becomes cloudy. If cataracts significantly affect your vision, they may be treated with surgery.
Glaucoma — this is a type of vision loss caused by damage to the optic nerve (one of the nerves that connects the eye and the brain). There are many types of glaucoma, but the most common form of the disease mainly affects people over age 40. People with glaucoma don’t usually have any symptoms in its early stages. It's important to see your optometrist regularly to check if you have signs of the disease, so you can treat the condition and preserve your vision.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — this condition leads to a loss of central vision. AMD is caused by degeneration of the macula, a small but important part of the retina which helps with detailed vision needed for activities such as reading and driving. AMD is usually related to ageing and commonly occurs in people over 50 years. Several treatments can slow down the progression of AMD, so it's important to identify AMD early with regular eye checks.
Diabetic retinopathy— this condition affects many people with diabetes, especially those who have had diabetes for a long time. Diabetes can affect the blood vessels at the back of your eye, leading to vision loss. You can help reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by maintaining good blood sugar control and getting regular eye checks.
Dry eye— this is a common condition among all age groups, but it is especially common in older people. Dry eye happens when your tears do not provide enough lubrication for your eyes. This can lead to a range of symptoms including itchy, burning or sore eyes. There are many strategies you can use to reduce your symptoms, as well as medicines such as lubricating eye drops.
Remember that your vision affects your safety and that of the people around you, so it's important for everyone that you look after the health of your eyes. This is especially true if you drive.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
How can I prevent eye problems?
Many eye problems that are common in older people have few or no symptoms in their early stages. This means it's important to see your optometrist regularly to make sure your eyes stay healthy.
There are many other things you can do to reduce your chance of developing eye problems as you age:
- maintain a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular physical activity
- avoid smoking
- limit the amount of time you spend looking at screens, and take regular breaks when working on a computer or watching TV
- avoid reading in dim light
- wear sunglasses with polaroid lenses when outside
- wear eye protection when something may get in your eye — for example, when working with chemicals, using power tools, playing sport or gardening
What might increase my risk of developing eye problems?
Here are some risk factors that increase your chance of developing eye problems:
- Smoking significantly increases your risk of developing glaucoma and AMD.
- Diabetes is associated with several eye conditions including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
- High blood pressure increases your chance of developing glaucoma and AMD.
- Obesity increases your chance of developing AMD.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps to keep these risk factors under control and may help you keep good vision for longer.
When should I see an optometrist?
See an optometrist if you notice any changes in your vision. You may notice symptoms such as:
- spots or 'floaters' in your vision
- eye pain
- vision loss at the centre or edges of your vision
- blurred or double vision
- reduced colour vision
- increased sensitivity to glare
- dry eyes
If you experience sudden, severe eye pain and/or vision loss, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance or visit your nearest emergency department.
Consider getting your eyes checked if you notice yourself tripping over objects or bumping into things.
It's important to see your optometrist regularly, even if you don't notice any changes in your vision, usually every 1 to 2 years. Most eye conditions are easier to treat if they are detected early before they cause symptoms.
Because older people are at greater risk of vision problems, it is especially important to have regular check-ups with an optometrist if you are over 60.
You don't need a referral from your doctor to see an optometrist. Most optometrist visits are eligible for a Medicare rebate, but your optometrist may charge extra fees. It's a good idea to check with your optometrist about fees and charges when you book your appointment.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
When should I consider a medical procedure?
Different eye conditions have different treatments. Some conditions, such as cataracts, are routinely treated with surgery when they start to affect good vision.
Other conditions are managed with medicines or laser treatments. Each treatment has its own benefits and risks, which will vary depending on your general health and any other medical problems you have.
Your optometrist and specialist eye doctor (ophthalmologist) can give you information and advice about the benefits and risks of different treatments.
Use the healthdirect Australia question-builder tool to prepare for your appointment. Create a list of questions to ask your doctor. Print or email the list so that you can take it to your appointment. This will help you get more out of the time with your doctor and help you to remember everything you want to ask.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.
How do I choose the right glasses?
An optometrist is a health professional trained to assess the health of your eyes and prescribe corrective lenses that are right for you. You may decide to use traditional glasses. You can also ask your optometrist if contact lenses are suitable for you. People who live more active lifestyles may find contact lenses more convenient.
Different types of glasses are available to treat different kinds of eye conditions. The type of lenses your optometrist will prescribe will be different depend on whether you have myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia (long-sightedness) or presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness).
If you need glasses for more than one eye condition, your optometrist may recommend multifocal lenses. These will help you see near and far without swapping glasses.
Each of these conditions can progress over time, meaning that your glasses prescription may change. See your optometrist every 1 to 2 years to ensure your glasses are still appropriate for you.
You can buy reading glasses over the counter from many pharmacies and shops. This can be convenient, but it's important to visit an optometrist who can make sure your glasses are right for you. For example, if one eye has better vision than the other, you may need different lenses for each eye. Also, reading glasses bought over the counter can help with age-related long-sightedness (presbyopia), but they don't help with other eye conditions such as short-sightedness (myopia).
Your optometrist can give you suitable contact lenses and advice about how to wear them safely. Contact lenses that do not fit your eyes well or are worn incorrectly can cause serious complications. It's important to follow your optometrist's instructions.
Resources and support
- Vision Australia provides information and support to people with low vision and their families.
- Good Vision for Life for Life is an Australian initiative which provides information about eye health at all stages of life.
- The Department of Health provides information on programs in states and territories that help with the cost of glasses for those on low incomes.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2021