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Ask a Doctor of Optometry: Eye Health

There's no denying it - our bodies change as we age and our eyes are no different. The scary part is, many eye conditions and diseases show no symptoms until it is too late and vision loss occurs.
Dr. Tammy Brauner reccomends annual eye exams for seniors.
Dr. Tammy Brauner reccomends annual eye exams for seniors.

There's no denying it - our bodies change as we age and our eyes are no different. The scary part is, many eye conditions and diseases show no symptoms until it is too late and vision loss occurs. That's why it's so important for everyone aged 65 and older to have annual comprehensive eye exams. Calgary based Doctor of Optometry Tammy Brauner treats seniors on a daily basis. She shares important information about preventing, detecting and treating age-related eye diseases.

Question: When should seniors start having annual eye exams?

Dr Brauner: I recommend that all adults have regular comprehensive eye exams every one or two years. When you turn 65, it becomes even more important to schedule annual eye exams with your Doctor of Optometry.

Q: How much does an eye exam cost?

DB: Alberta Health Care covers the cost of annual eye exams for seniors 65 and older. Treatment for many eye-related emergencies and diseases is also covered in Alberta, including monitoring for diabetic issues, glaucoma and retinal disease; pre and post-operative care for cataract patients; eye infections or injuries; foreign objects in the eye ; sudden appearance of floaters, spots, or flashes of light; sudden changes in vision or acute pain in the eye. Other visual disturbances may be covered, so be sure to ask your optometrist.

Q: Why is it necessary for seniors to have an eye exam every year?

DB: As people age, their vision needs change. Complications often arise and getting expert care is critically important. Many eye conditions and diseases do not show symptoms until the patient starts to lose their vision and by then it's often too late to reverse the damage. 80 per cent of vision loss can be prevented or treated if detected early. Why take the chance?

Q: What are the most common age-related eye conditions that you see?

DB: One in seven Canadians will develop a serious eye disease in their lifetime, so unfortunately I see patients who are dealing with a wide range of eye health and vision problems. There are five conditions related to aging that are extremely common: 1) Presbyopia: a natural effect of aging in which the ability to focus on close objects decreases over time. Presbyopia can cause headaches, blurred vision, the need for more light while reading and sore eyes. 2) Cataracts: distorted or cloudy vision caused by the lens inside the eye losing its transparency over time. Cataracts can require changes to your glasses or surgical removal. 3)Diabetic Retinopathy: a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, and the growth of new blood vessels resulting in blood leakage and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, blindness can result. 4) Macular degeneration: a disease that results in degenerative changes to your central vision and is a leading cause of vision loss among older adults. 5) Glaucoma: a "silent thief" that often has no symptoms until significant damage has occurred. Glaucoma is caused by elevated pressure within the eye, and can lead to serious vision loss if not detected and treated at an early stage.

Q: If someone has 20/20 vision, do they still need to have an eye exam?

A: Absolutely. Comprehensive eye exams do so much more than test your sight - they are vital to your overall health. During an eye exam, your optometrist will evaluate many factors that can affect vision and eye health. Often we'll find hidden health conditions such as diabetes or eye tumours, which would have otherwise gone undetected and untreated. Even if you have perfect vision, you may still be at risk of developing a serious eye condition.

Q: How can seniors find a Doctor of Optometry in their community?

A: There are a couple of ways to find a Doctor of Optometry. You can either visit the Alberta Association of Optometrists' website at www.optometrists.ab.ca/find-an-optometrist, or give them a call toll-free at 1-800-272-8843.

The Alberta Association of Optometrists is a non-profit organization representing 640 Doctors of Optometry in 80 communities across the province. It actively promotes the profession of optometry and educates Albertans about the importance of eye health.