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Most people are familiar with the word Glaucoma, but many people have no idea where it comes from or what it actually is. If you are dealing with an elderly parent who might be facing glaucoma, it’s important that you understand exactly what is happening, and how to attack it head on.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a cluster of diseases that messes with one’s vision. It can damage optic nerves in the eyes and result in blindness. It is the leading cause of legal blindness in the US, and people who are over the age of 60, or people who have a family history of Glaucoma are more likely to suffer from the disease. Fortunately, it can be prevented if caught in it’s early stages.
Anyone can get Glaucoma, but people who suffer from diabetes or have had long term exposure to cortisone steroids are more prone to developing it. If a person suffers from low blood pressure, or has suffered from an eye injury, then they could be susceptible to Glaucoma as well.
Within our eyes, there is fluid that maintains a constant pressure. If the valve located in the eye is not functioning properly, it can cause damage to the optic nerve. This damage creates an increased pressure in the eye, causing the person to slowly lose their sight. This pressure can be very painful and irritable.
There are many different types of Glaucoma that one could suffer from:
Angle Closure Glaucoma – The iris is forced against part of the eye when the intraocular pressure becomes overly high. This can cause blockage and keep the eye from draining. When the drainage is blocked off completely, one will suffer from acute glaucoma, resulting in quick vision loss.
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma – This slow vision loss happens when peripheral vision deteriorates and imperceptibly narrows. Seeing with this disease is like looking through a tunnel, rather than having 20/20 vision.
Low-Tension or Normal Tension Glaucoma – This type of Glaucoma is regarded as much more challenging because the intraocular pressure is usually within normal parameters. When the blood flow is impaired to the optic nerve, it can cause glaucoma.
Open-Angle Glaucoma – This is the most common type and it tends to come on slowly. The peripheral vision is lost over time causing the person to suffer from long term vision loss.
How to Detect Glaucoma in Your Elderly Parent
It is important that you take your loved one to get a full eye exam, including a visual field exam, tonometry, visual acuity assessment, and a dilated eye exam. All of these exams can determine the health of their eyes, and by checking the resistance of their cornea to indentation, it can easily be determined if they have contracted some form of Glaucoma.
When giving them a visual field exam, the doctor will test the field of vision by asking your loved one if they can see a list of objects. They will also flash lights from different locations to check the peripheral function.
It still is unsure what you can do to help your loved ones prevent Glaucoma, however, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 2007 found that Omega-3-fatty acids could possibly decrease pressure buildup in the eye. The best thing that you can do to help them prevent Glaucoma is make sure that they have a regular eye exam so that it can be caught early.
Although there is no cure, there are a few effective treatments for Glaucoma, and most of them come in the form of eye drops. Alpha-adrenergic agonist reduces pressure in the eyes by stemming how much fluid (aqueous humor) the eyes produce. It also increases the amount of fluid that drains out of the eyes. Beta blockers reduce pressure inside the eye by reducing how much fluid is produced in the eye. By reducing pressure in the eyes, it can help slow optic nerve damage, decreasing the rate of vision loss. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors work similarly to alpha-adrenergic agonist, in that they decrease the amount of pressure in your eyes by limiting the production of fluid.
The medicine prescribed to your parent should be taken exactly as it was ordered. You might find that they need assistance with the eye drops due to their deteriorating motor skills. There are devices available that can help your parent apply the eye drops to their eyes in a much easier fashion, and they should be encouraged to do so if they are physically able, so as to promote their independence.
It can be challenging to deal with a parent suffering from vision loss, but there are things that you can do to help them and resources available to either prevent the disease, or bring it to a halt. Just because they have limited or worsening eyesight, does not mean that they can’t still live their life to the fullest.