Seniors have better eyesight than ever

Decreased vision has long been reported as one of the most common signs of aging, but results of a new study suggest things have improved. Researchers from Northwestern found that visual impairment in adults over 65 is on the way down.

There are a number of reasons for improved vision among older adults. Lifestyle changes focused on healthy aging, such as less smoking, could be largely responsible for the decrease in visual problems. Additionally, better treatments and improved cataract surgery have lessened the prevalence of eye problems.

The research looked at the period between 1984 and 2010. In 1984, around 23 percent of older adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation said their poor vision kept them from reading or seeing a newspaper. Just 26 years later, that number decreased to about 9.7 percent of the over-65 population.

"The findings are exciting, because they suggest that currently used diagnostic and screening tools and therapeutic interventions for various ophthalmic diseases are helping to prolong the vision of elderly Americans," study author Angelo P. Tanna said.

The study also provided some insight into the challenges older adults with visual impairment face. Not being able to see well can seriously impact senior living because it makes daily activities such as moving around the house and getting dressed more difficult.

Although the results indicate a lower rate of visual impairment, that does not mean seniors should ignore their eyesight. According to the National Eye Institute, approximately 1.75 million adults have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common visual problem experienced by older adults. Luckily, there are many steps older adults can take to reduce their risk of AMD.

A senior's diet may have the greatest impact on his or her eyesight. There are many foods and nutrients that are known to protect against AMD and other conditions, and adding them to one's diet may yield significant benefits.

Leafy green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods there are, and that's especially true for eyesight. According to AllAboutVision, spinach and kale contain high levels of the antioxidant lutein, which is also found in broccoli, sweet corn and peas. Other eye-healthy nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids (often found in fish), vitamin A and vitamin C.