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Effects and symptoms of glaucoma: a guide for older people

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To mark World Glaucoma Week (11-17 March), we wanted to help you understand more about the effects that vision loss can have on older people, and the symptoms of glaucoma you should watch out for.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is among the leading causes of blindness, referring to a group of conditions that cause fluid to accumulate in the eye.

This results in a build-up of pressure that damages the optic nerve, which can lead to permanent sight loss. Almost half a million people in England have the condition, including 1 in 10 people aged 75+.

The primary aim of World Glaucoma Week is to raise awareness of the condition and encourage people (especially those in high-risk groups) to get their eyes checked regularly.

Though slow to develop, symptoms of the most common form of glaucoma are hard to spot until the condition has reached an advanced stage.

How does glaucoma impact older people?

Losing your sight is debilitating at any age. However, older people are typically more at risk of partial or total sight loss, and the effects can be magnified by the presence of other health conditions.

These are just some of the ways loss of vision can affect older people:

  • Independence: Losing vision will severely restrict (if not remove) your loved one's ability to live independently. It can also stop them engaging with enjoyable activities, such as reading or watching television.
  • Social isolation: Being less able to walk outside, drive or use public transport can lead to older people becoming socially isolated. Having difficulty recognising the faces of relatives, friends and other members of the community is also restrictive.
  • Depression: In combination, the anxiety associated with losing independence and effects of social isolation can increase your loved one's risk of developing depression. These feelings could also manifest in other problematic or harmful ways.
  • Side-effects: Even when glaucoma has been successfully diagnosed and treatment initiated, typical glaucoma medications can cause side effects, including: reduced vision, itching/burning sensation, fatigue, headaches and drowsiness.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma to watch out for?

Though some forms of this condition are hard to detect, encourage your loved one to speak with their doctor if they notice any of the following possible symptoms of glaucoma:

  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Severe eye or head pain (especially when accompanied by nausea/vomiting)
  • Rainbow-coloured circles surrounding bright lights
  • Sudden loss of vision

Glaucoma can be hereditary, so it's worth getting checked if your loved one's parents or siblings have had the condition in the past.

If your loved one has diabetes or cardiovascular disease, their risk of developing the condition may be higher. If in doubt, always consult with a medical professional.

Glaucoma and associated vision loss have a significant impact on many older people. However, by better understanding the effects and knowing the symptoms of glaucoma to watch out for, you can help ensure timely intervention for your loved one.

Find out how your loved one can receive the level of care and attention they need to live as independently as possible – even with vision loss – by speaking with our friendly team.

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