Although most people’s vision begins deteriorating in their mid- to late-20s, you probably didn’t notice the changes until your 40s. Difficulty seeing objects up close is the most common age-related vision change. Other signs are difficulty distinguishing color and adjusting to glare or bright lights. These are all normal signs of aging and do not impact day-to-day life in any meaningful way. However, there are more serious age-related vision problems. In this post, we look at the five most common and discuss Medicare coverage for them.
1. Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Also known as AMD, age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss for people over age 50.
AMD damages the macula, which is responsible for your central vision. If it becomes damaged, objects in the center of your field of vision look blurry or distorted. Colors may also appear dark or dull.
You are at higher risk for AMD if you smoke, have a family history of the disease, or are Caucasian. Lifestyle changes help reduce your risk. Quit smoking, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy, plant-based diet.
Most patients do not display early symptoms. Detecting the disease requires a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Medicare Part B covers certain treatments for people who have AMD. It does not cover a dilated eye exam unless you have diabetes.
Cataracts form when the lens in your eye becomes clouded. They are extremely common with age, affecting more than half of people over 80.
The lens helps your eye focus whether objects are far away or up close. When a cataract clouds the lens, it also clouds the vision. As it grows, vision becomes blurrier and may take on a brownish tint. These changes typically occur gradually.
Age is the most common risk factor for cataracts. Lifestyle is next, with risk increasing for people who smoke or drink heavily. In addition, diabetics are more prone to cataracts, as are people with prolonged exposure to UV rays.
Cataract symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Faded colors
- Lights appear brighter or may have a halo effect
- More frequent changes to eyeglass prescription
- Reduced night vision
Medicare covers both cataract surgery and doctor-ordered testing when cataracts are suspected. Typically, surgery is avoided until the vision loss interferes with daily life.
3. Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease caused by diabetes. It affects around half of people who have type 1 diabetes and around a third of type 2 sufferers. Retinopathy occurs when the disease damages the blood vessels within the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication of diabetes. Damage is permanent and typically occurs without immediately noticeable change to vision. In other words, by the time you notice a difference in your vision, it’s too late to fix the problem. That’s why early detection is crucial.
The only way to detect diabetic retinopathy is through a dilated eye exam. Medicare Part B covers this test once per year.
In addition to diabetic retinopathy, diabetes patients have a higher risk of cataracts and glaucoma.
4. Dry Eye
If your eyes fail to produce tears properly, you may develop a condition known as dry eye. Basal tears bathe your eyes every time you blink. Believe it or not, these tears contain over 1,500 proteins that nourish and protect your eyes.
The main symptoms are feeling that you have something in your eye, pain, and a stinging or burning sensation. Eye discharge is also common, as are redness and blurred vision.
Dry eye most commonly affects people over age 50. It is a side effect of numerous medications, chronic conditions, and autoimmune disorders.
Determining the cause is the first step in determining treatment. For example, if your medication causes dry eye, you may simply be able to change medications. There are also OTC medications and lifestyle changes that may help. Severe cases may require surgery.
Medicare does not cover testing for dry eye.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness; it can be controlled with early detection. Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve that connects the brain and the retina.
There are no early symptoms. Disease progression causes deterioration in side vision. Without treatment, this blurriness expands and the field of vision narrows. If it continues, the final result is blindness.
Annual testing is vital for early detection. Medicare only covers a yearly glaucoma test for high-risk patients. This includes:
- African Americans aged 50 or older
- Hispanics aged 65 or older
- Those with a family history of glaucoma
If at least one of these applies to you, Medicare Part B covers one test every 12 months.
Diagnosing Age-Related Vision Problems
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), the only reliable test for age-related vision problems is a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The NEI recommends yearly eye tests for everyone aged 50 and older, as the early stages of many of the most common eye diseases have no symptoms or warning signs. And, as with most diseases, early detection is vital. In this instance, it ensures you get the treatment you need to protect your eyesight.
Unfortunately, Medicare only covers yearly dilated eye exams under specific conditions. Namely, for diabetes patients and those who are at high risk of glaucoma. Medicare also does not cover routine vision care or corrective lenses (except for some cataract surgery patients). You may want to consider ancillary vision insurance. For more information about vision insurance or answers to your Medicare questions, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101. One of our licensed agents is happy to assist you.