Eyes and ageing

Changes that occur in your eyes as you grow older can have a big effect on your vision.

Key points about eyes and aging

  1. From the age of about 45 years, you should have your eyes tested every few years.
  2. Your optometrist will check how well you can see and look for signs of common problems such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
  3. These eye conditions can be managed better if picked up early. 
  4. You can also take care of your eye health with healthy lifestyle habits such as healthy eating, being active, getting enough sleep and getting support to quit smoking.

Keep your eyes healthy

  • Your eyes need 3 times as much light when you’re 60 years old as they did when you were 20, so make sure you use good lighting.
  • Eat well – especially plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Wear sunglasses – this reduces your risk of cataracts.
  • Get support to quit smoking – this reduces your chances of developing cataracts and other eye conditions.
  • Stay at a healthy weight – being overweight increases your risk of diabetes, which can lead to you losing your sight.
  • Be active every day – exercise stimulates good circulation. this increases oxygen intake which is important for eye health.
  • Sleep well – as you sleep, your eyes are continuously lubricated. Irritants, such as dust or smoke, that have built up during the day are cleared out.

Presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness)

As you age, the ability of your eye lenses to focus decreases gradually. This makes it hard to focus on things that are nearby. This is known as presbyopia. It is the reason many people over the age of 40 need reading glasses. Around the age of 60, presbyopia does not usually get worse.

Reading glasses:

  • help your eyes to focus on things that are nearby
  • need to be gradually increased in power as your eyes lose their focusing ability
  • do not speed up or slow down the changes happening in your eyes.

Make sure you get regular eye tests so you can be prescribed reading glasses at the right time. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you are wearing the correct type.

Cataract

Clouding of the lens within your eye is called a cataract. Your risk of getting cataracts increases with age – many people over the age of 60 have cataracts. You may need surgery for some cataracts. Surgery is usually only advised when your vision has become so blurred that it's difficult to carry out normal visual tasks such as driving or reading small text. Read more about cataracts.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition in which the pressure inside your eye is too high and causes loss of vision. Glaucoma can run in families and is seen more commonly in the over-50 age group.

  • Most people don't know they have glaucoma until it is in an advanced state.
  • It is important to have regular eye examinations and be screened for glaucoma, especially if there is a family history.
  • In most cases the condition can be successfully treated with eye drops or simple laser procedures.

Read more about glaucoma.

Macular degeneration

When you are over 60 years old, you may develop gradual loss of central ‘sharp’ vision. This is usually caused by changes in an area at the back of your eye called the macula. The macula helps with the sharp focusing needed for reading and other fine visual tasks. Smoking is a major risk factor. In the early stages of macular degeneration, some supplements may be useful for slowing the disease. 

If you experience a sudden change in your vision, eg, distortion, reduced near vision or blurred central vision, you should see your optometrist or eye specialist straight away. Read more about macular degeneration. 

Learn more

The NZ Association of Optometrists has a list of optometrists in your area, and you can find an eye specialist via HealthPoint.

Reviewed by

Kenny is a therapeutic optometrist at Eye Institute and Counties Manukau District Health Board. Kenny has a clinical background in ocular surface disease & retina, along with research experience in retinal imaging and macular disease.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Kenny Wu, Optometrist, Eye Institute, Auckland Last reviewed: 20 Dec 2021