Glaucoma warning signs in seniors (and what to do next)

Posted: 1/24/2020 8:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

Are you worried a senior in your life may be showing signs of glaucoma? About three million Americans have the condition and many of them are over age 65.

Glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve has been damaged, which then affects quality of vision in patients. It occurs when there’s a buildup of pressure inside the eye, which then damages the optic nerve (this nerve transmits information from the eye to the brain). The optic nerve is located at the back of the eyeball.

About 75 percent of those who are legally blind due to glaucoma are seniors, so if you suspect a senior you love may have the condition, it’s important to contact a doctor, since half of those who have the condition don’t know they have it!

It’s not time to panic, however: a diagnosis of glaucoma does not mean blindness is in your loved one’s future. Many treatment options exist. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore any glaucoma warning signs. The sooner you know what’s going on, the sooner you and your loved can treat – or even prevent – glaucoma.

Why seniors are more at risk of developing glaucoma

Most people who have glaucoma are seniors. This simply is because they’ve lived longer and thus have had more time to experience eye trauma (such as an injury to the eye) or develop diabetes or heart problems, like high blood pressure, which can increase the likelihood of developing this condition.
(An important note: even those with low blood pressure could be at risk of developing glaucoma because low blood pressure can affect the optic nerve and the pressure inside the eye negatively.)

Glaucoma warning signs

There really aren’t “warning signs” for the most typical form of glaucoma, called primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Vision loss does occur early with POAG but it’s usually in the peripheral/side vision and therefore often isn’t noticed. But once that vision is gone, it’s gone: there is no treatment.
It’s therefore critical that your loved one receive regular eye examinations so that the doctor can prescribe treatment to protect vision.

Warning signs can come early for the second, less-common form of glaucoma called primary closure-angle glaucoma. Symptoms can include:

- Hazy or blurred vision
- Severe head and eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting (which goes along with the eye pain)
- Rainbow-colored circles that appear around bright lights
- Sudden sight loss

If your loved one experiences even just one of the above symptoms, make sure he or she visits an eye doctor immediately.

An annual eye exam is critical, as treatment in the early stages of glaucoma can help minimize the risk. What’s more, there often is a gradual rise in eye pressure and this typically comes without noticeable symptoms. Therefore, catching it early is paramount for a successful treatment.

Yearly eye exams are the BEST “treatment” for glaucoma

Because both forms of the condition often go undetected in their early stages, it’s especially critical to make sure your loved one receives a yearly eye exam from a professional. It’s not necessary to see an ophthalmologist (MD) for this examination: an optometrist’s office tests for glaucoma as a matter of course when someone comes in for a yearly glasses or contact subscription check and/or updated prescription.

If you find that your senior friend or family member hasn’t been going for these yearly vision checkups due to cost, let him or her know that a few organizations (such as VISION USA and EyeCare America, among others) offer free eye exams for many people who don’t have a vision plan provided by an employer, HMO or other healthcare plan, or who don’t have eye coverage via the Veterans Administration.

Medicare doesn’t provide eye exams, but individuals eligible for Medicare who have special eye needs or other general health problems can qualify for eye exam coverage. This is especially the case for those with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.

If you’re worried a loved one one hasn’t been going for an annual eye exam because he or she is afraid to drive or can’t drive, Interim HealthCare’s senior care services can provide a caregiver for a few hours a day a few days a week (or more) for doctor’s visits such as these and other errands.

Help your senior loved ones stay safe and healthy

Home care can give you and your loved ones peace of mind knowing that doctor’s appointments will never be missed. Regular doctor checkups also help keep the seniors in your life healthy and vibrant. Contact the Interim Healthcare location nearest you.