Eye Health

Vision is important to maintaining independence and quality of life throughout a woman’s life. A number of eye conditions and diseases disproportionately affect older women, including glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve and result in vision loss or blindness.1 It is estimated to affect 5.6 percent of adults over 40 years of age, but this varies by sex, age, and race and ethnicity. Among adults aged 65–74 years, men were slightly more likely than females to have glaucoma (11.6 versus 9.2 percent), while among adults aged 75 and older, glaucoma was more common in women than men (16.7 versus 13.4 percent). Among women, non-Hispanic Black women were most likely to have had glaucoma (9.4 percent), compared to non-Hispanic White and Hispanic women (5.7 and 2.0 percent, respectively; data not shown).

A cataract occurs when protein builds up in the lens and causes clouding. Surgery to replace the lens has proven to be an effective treatment for cataracts when blurring becomes severe enough to limit vision.ibid In 2005–2006, among adults aged 65 years and older, 35.8 percent of women and 25.7 percent of men reported ever having had cataract surgery. Older adults were more likely to have had the surgery; 57.3 percent of women aged 75 years and older had the surgery compared to 17.4 percent of women aged 65–74 years.

Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the macula (which allows one to see in fine detail) usually resulting in partial vision loss. While there is no known cure for macular degeneration, early detection and treatment can slow its effects.ibid In 2005–2006, 4.3 percent of women aged 40 years and older reported having been told by a health professional that they have macular degeneration. This disease was more common among older women. Fewer than 2 percent of women aged 40–64 years had macular degeneration compared to 3.8 and 16.9 percent of women aged 65–74 and 75 years and older, respectively (data not shown).

1 National Institute of Health. NIH Senior Health [online]. April 2008. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/listoftopics.html, accessed 05/06/08.

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