By Kelliann Schilling, Registered Nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York
HEALTH– Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States if left untreated.
According to Glaucoma Research Foundation, about 3 million Americans have the disease, but only half know they have it.
One of the most common forms of glaucoma is known as the “sneak thief of sight” because only after the disease has advanced quite a bit do symptoms such as vision loss become apparent. Knowing that there are very few “warning signs” can cause individuals and their families to have feelings of worry, fear, and helplessness about how to handle the disease. Yet it’s important to remember that you are not alone and help and resources are available when the need arises.
As a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) my patient roster includes many patients over the age of 65, which is often when people begin to notice changes in their vision and start asking questions about how to prevent glaucoma.
Unfortunately, glaucoma is not preventable and vision loss from the disease is not reversible. Early detection however, does provide ways to protect your eyesight and prevent complete vision loss. Here are a few tips our VNSNY teams share with our patients to help catch glaucoma early:
- Knowledge is Power: It is extremely important to understand the facts about the disease and ask your doctor the right questions. For example, make sure your ophthalmologist looks at the eye nerve and not just the more common diagnoses of high eye pressure. Also, know your risk factors for the disease. Among people who are at an increased risk for glaucoma are African Americans, Latinos and those with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
- Get Screened: It is important to complete regularly scheduled eye exams every six to 12 months for those patients over the age of 65. Additionally, make sure to get any kind of eye irritation checked out immediately.
- Symptoms: While glaucoma symptoms develop slowly, and sometimes not at all, some symptoms to look out for can include:
- Blurred or hazy vision
- Eye pain, swelling or redness
- Trouble reading
- Peripheral Vision Loss
- Sudden sight loss
- Loss of contrast sensitivity (the ability to see shades of the same color)
- Problems with glare
- Light sensitivity
Once diagnosed, it is extremely important to make some lifestyle changes to help you stay safe at home and on track with your treatment.
- Make a Schedule: Write down the name, dosage, and number of times your medications should be taken each day. It’s also important to space out treatments. Develop a regimen to make your medications part of your daily routine, administering them in the morning, at night, or during meals.
- Learn Eye-Drop Installation: It is extremely important to put eye drops in correctly, as they are usually the main form of treatment for glaucoma. It can be extremely difficult to apply drops properly, especially if living alone. Due to these challenges, it can be helpful to have the assistance of home health aides, such as those at Partners in Care, a licensed home care agency that is a part of VNSNY. A home health aide or family caregiver can help ensure that correct drops dosages are administered, and that both the eye lids and lashes are kept clean. It is also beneficial to keep your eyes closed for two minutes after receiving the drops, to ensure effectiveness of the medication.
- Living with Impairment: While life with glaucoma may be an adjustment, there are a variety of tools and resources that can help you cope and maintain a comfortable level of vision. I usually recommend patients get magnifiers or computer text enlargers to reduce stress caused from frequent squinting and straining to read. Additionally, if you happen to have one, iPads and other large-screen tablets have been known to enhance visual clarity as they allow for a high contrast, crisp display.
- Healthy Lifestyle Modifications: Anyone with glaucoma should do their best to maintain a healthy weight and keep blood pressure at normal levels. Caffeine can increase eye pressure, so it is important to be mindful and modify intake if needed. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables with vitamins C, E, A, D and Zinc supports ocular health, and always remember to wear sunglasses outdoors to protect the eyes.
While there is no cure yet for glaucoma and vision loss cannot be regained, there are treatment options that can help preserve visual function.
It is important to remember to always communicate with your entire care team if something seems amiss with your vision. We recommend that all our patients over the age of 65 make regularly scheduled visits to the ophthalmologist a regular part of their routine healthcare maintenance.
To learn more about how home care can help support older individuals living with glaucoma, please visit www.VNSNY.org or call 1-800-675-0391.