Eye Care Essentials for People Over Age 65

Read our Advertiser Disclosure.
Contributor, Benzinga
July 3, 2023

Keeping your eyes and your vision in tip-top shape could be the greatest present you give to yourself as you enter your later years. 

Here are some of the reasons why life is better when you see well . . .

  • You enjoy life more.
  • You are less likely to experience falls in your home and elsewhere.
  • Studies show that you will be happier and less likely to become depressed.
  • You can drive later and later in life and have fewer accidents too. 
  • You will have better night vision
  • Pastimes like reading, using computers, and watching television are more pleasurable.
  • Interpersonal relationships with family members and friends are more fulfilling and less frustrating. 

General Vision Maintenance Basics for Everyone

(Information on Specialized Needs Follows Below)

  • Have regular eye exams to screen for glaucoma, dry eye, macular degeneration, and other problem that are more likely to occur after age 65. Your eye doctor, after evaluating your eyes and your vision, might recommend having a fresh eye exam every six months, or every year. Note too that in later years, changes in eyeglass prescriptions may be needed more frequently than they were earlier in your life. 
  • Consider protecting your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Many ophthalmologists recommend blocking ultraviolet (UV) rays by wearing sunglasses that block out at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Work and read in well-lit settings. Also take breaks at the rate of about once every 30 minutes when reading or using the computer.
  • Take frequent five-minute breaks – at least once an hour - when driving. 
  • Follow a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.  Also consider adding a specialized vitamin that contains lutein, a carotenoid with reported anti-inflammatory properties. Several brands of these vitamins are available over the counter in pharmacies. Or ask your eye doctor for a recommendation. 
  • Stay away from eye irritants, which can include strong household cleaning products, tobacco, and other forms of smoke, and blowing dust and leaf debris outdoors. 
  • Always wear safety glasses when using tools, blowing or raking leaves, or engaging in any other activities that will potentially expose your eyes to injury or irritation. 
  • Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes. If you experience eye irritation, put a warm, moist, clean wash cloth over them and let it sit for at least 30 seconds, without rubbing. 
  • Avoid direct sunlight, bright lights and glare. Even though they might not cause permanent damage to your eyes, they cause irritation and may lead you to rub your eyes or engage in other harmful habits. 

Special Vision Topics and Concerns for People Over Age 65

Does Medicare Cover Eye and Vision Care?

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) typically covers medically necessary services related to eye health, such as cataract surgery, diagnostic tests for eye diseases, and treatment of eye injuries. 

However, routine eye exams for glasses or contact lenses are not covered under Original Medicare unless they are part of a preventive exam for people at high risk of developing eye diseases, such as those with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.

In addition, some Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) may offer additional coverage for routine eye care, such as eye exams, glasses, or contact lenses. It is important to review the specific benefits and limitations of your Medicare plan to understand your coverage for eye care.

Should You Have Cataract Surgery?

A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens in the eye that affects vision. The lens, which is located behind the iris and pupil, is normally clear and helps to focus light on the retina. But when a cataract develops, the lens becomes cloudy, which can cause blurred or distorted vision, increased sensitivity to glare, and difficulty seeing in dim light. Many people develop cataracts as they age.

Cataract surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis, under minimal anesthesia. It is rare for patients to have surgery on both their eyes on the same day, but there are exceptions. Patients return home on the day of surgery, usually wearing a bandage, but usually are advised not to drive for 24-48 hours. Several kinds of surgery are generally offered. One involves physical cutting into the eye, followed by the insertion of a new, plastic lens. Another kind of operation relies more heavily on the use of a special laser to dissolve the old lens. If you are thinking of having cataract surgery, you may want to speak with both your primary eye care physician and with a surgeon (usually a second, separate physician who will perform the surgery) to discuss which kind of procedure will be better for you. 

The benefits of having cataract surgery include better night vision (often experienced most keenly when driving), more accurate perception of colors, and even a return to 20/20 distance vision. (Reading glasses are often still needed, even after cataract surgery.)

Problems following surgery can include eye irritation, the presence of “floaters” in the field of vision, and susceptibility to glare. However, most individuals who have had cataract surgery report overall satisfaction.

What Additional Cautions Should You Be Aware of If You Have Diabetes?

If you have diabetes, be sure to have eye and vision exams on a schedule your eye physician recommends. Do not cut corners on your care, because diabetes  can affect the blood vessels in your eyes and lead to a variety of eye problems that can include: 

  • Cataracts: People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that can cause blurry vision. (Please read “Should You Have Cataract Surgery” above.)
  • Diabetic retinopathy: This is a condition in which high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and even blindness if it is not treated.
  • Glaucoma: People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing glaucoma, a condition in which the pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve and causes vision loss.

Also be aware that if you have diabetes and have a Medicare supplement plan, your plan might offer you extra coverage for eye care, as well as extra diabetic care such as nutritional counseling. Be sure to contact your plan administrator, ask about what your plan covers, and make sure you are obtaining all the benefits your plan makes available.

To Summarize . . . 

Beautiful, clear eyesight is one of the greatest pleasures that life can offer you.  It makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors, experience art, engage fully in theater and films and life’s best experiences.  It also makes it easier and more pleasurable to drive and travel. It improves your interpersonal and family life and helps you live more safely. 

The small amount of time and effort you invest in caring for your vision will repay you richly with a safer and better life. So don’t let the health of your eyes become a secondary concern. Move it to the top of your list of health concerns, manage it, and enjoy a range of benefits that will reward you with a much better quality of life as you cruise happily into your late years.