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Understanding Glaucoma: A Guide for Caregivers of Older Adults


An older adult undergoing a glaucoma test.

Ensuring the well-being of older adults involves comprehensive care, and one aspect often overlooked is eye health. Glaucoma, a progressive eye disorder leading to optic nerve damage and potential blindness, is a significant concern, especially among older adults. As a caregiver, it's crucial to integrate glaucoma testing into the care plan, given its prevalence and potential severity.

Risk Factors for Glaucoma:

Understanding the risk factors is the first step in proactive care. The groups at higher risk include:

  • Adults Over 60: They are six times more likely to develop glaucoma.
  • Hispanics and African Americans: Both groups face increased risks, with African Americans being six to eight times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians.
  • Family History: The hereditary nature of primary open-angle glaucoma makes those with a family history more susceptible.
  • Severe Asthma Sufferers: The use of steroids in inhalers can elevate the risk of glaucoma.
  • Previous Eye Injuries: Trauma to the eye, especially in sports-related incidents, can lead to glaucoma later in life.
  • Severe Nearsightedness: Individuals with significant nearsightedness are at higher risk.
  • Systemic Diseases: Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease increase vulnerability.

Testing for Glaucoma:

It's important to get checked regularly to catch glaucoma early. Even though there are about four million Americans with glaucoma, only about half of them know they have it. For people 35 or older, it's a good idea to get tested every one to two years. But for older adults over 65, it's best to get tested every year, especially if they are in one of the groups more likely to get glaucoma mentioned above. The "puff of air" test is a common and quick way for eye doctors to check for glaucoma. Another test, applanation tonometry, uses special eye drops and a blue light to check the pressure inside the eye.

Treatment Options:

Timely treatment can significantly impact the progression of glaucoma. Eye drops that reduce eye pressure are the primary prescription, administered once or several times a day. If these are ineffective, surgery may be considered. It's crucial for caregivers to be vigilant about their loved one's peripheral vision, as glaucoma can affect it without noticeable symptoms.

Caregiver's Role:

As a caregiver, you have an important role to play. Schedule regular eye exams, especially if your loved one is in one of the groups more likely to get glaucoma. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and sometimes there are free eye exams available during this time. If your loved one is diagnosed, work closely with healthcare professionals to make sure they get the right medications and a good overall treatment plan.

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