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Annual eye exam key to managing age-related eye issues

Dr. Tom Wilk performs an anterior segment examination on a patient with glaucoma and dry eyes. Photo: submitted by Mountain View Optometry

About two years ago, Pat Bateman went in for a routine eye exam. Her eyes felt good, and she and her husband had been proactive in taking care of their eye health for years.

Her optometrist – Dr. Tom Wilk of Mountain View Optometry –reviewed Bateman’s scans and saw that she had a detached retina in her right eye. A detached retina is a serious injury in which a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye pulls away from its normal position.

"It was shocking," said Bateman, 74. "I was surprised because I had had absolutely no symptoms. If you don’t look after a detached retina, you can end up losing sight in that eye.”

The Alberta Association of Optometrists (AAO) is in the midst of a campaign to remind Alberta seniors to book their comprehensive annual eye exam to ensure early detection of common eye diseases that are related to aging: cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. One in nine Canadians will develop irreversible vision loss by the time they hit 65, and that number increases to one in four by age 75.

Though eye exams for seniors are typically covered by Alberta Health, Wilk said many people make the mistake of putting off annual exams.

“In most cases, the earliest signs of eye disease aren’t noticeable by the patient,” said Wilk. “If we can pick up on it early, then we have a higher chance of intervening. Glaucoma, called the silent disease of sight, affects around 400,000 Canadians but only half of those are diagnosed because there are no symptoms in the early stages. If we can pick up glaucoma early on, then we can intervene with treatments and slow the process down.”

In response to COVID-19, Wilk said optometrists throughout the province have implemented a number of changes to their clinics. These include booking appointments in advance, and having patients fill out screening questionnaires and take a temperature check when they arrive for their appointment.

“We do increased sanitization of all equipment, as well as the chairs people are sitting in," added Wilk. "Any time someone occupies a space, we need to ensure that space is cleaned. Most of us have increased our time interval for the exam process so we can allow for increased disinfection to take place. We are all using protective shields or face masks or both. We ask that our patients do the same to keep both sides safe."

After a successful surgery to repair the detached retina, Bateman is enjoying time with her husband at their home west of Calgary. A registered nurse, Bateman also wants Alberta seniors hear the message loud and clear on the importance of annual eye exams.

“A lot of people ignore it because they think their eyes are fine,” said Bateman. “My visit was a perfect example of how I didn’t think anything was wrong, but regular eye care is especially important when you become a senior. I don’t think detached retinas are all that common but there are other eye problems like macular degeneration, so people need to take it more seriously.

"Eyesight is one of the most important things we have. You don’t realize unless you have a big problem and lose some of your eyesight that maybe you should have taken better care."

To find an optometrist in your area, see the link below.