This post is sponsored by Alcon.

For most of my life, I took my body for granted. As a young woman, when I ate a piece of cheesecake, my metabolism devoured it with a fiery determination. When I exercised on January 1st, my overindulgence on New Year’s Eve was a distant memory. All of my senses were assumptions and my memories were set in stone.

Then, I reached my 50s and, slowly but surely, I became aware of just how disconnected from my body I had become. Every little ache and pain was a wake-up call. Every creak and crack told me that I needed to start treating my body with respect if I wanted it to be there for me in the future.

Of course, as we age, some changes are more obvious than others. We all know that our joints are getting a little creaky. Far fewer of us think about our senses – particularly our vision – until it is too late.

Part of the reason for this is that, unlike our muscles and bones, we don’t think of our eyes as being under our control. They are the stuff of poets, mysterious and magical. We also have a tendency to think that eye problems after 60 are “normal” and that there is nothing we can do about them.

In reality, we have more control over the health of our eyes than we believe. In honor of Cataract Awareness Month this June, I would like to encourage everyone to be proactive and get educated about eye health, break through the myths about eye health that prevent us from taking action, and learn more about the emotional impact cataracts can have on patients and their loved ones.

Myth 1: Women and Men Are Equally Impacted by Eye Diseases

By now, you have probably heard that women, on average, live longer than men. This might lead you to believe that we suffer from fewer medical problems as we age.

The reality is somewhat more complicated. After the age of 65, some conditions, such as heart disease, do tend to impact men more than women. However, when it comes to eye health, women can be at a disadvantage.

Specifically, according to Alcon, the global leader in eye care and a division of Novartis, 61% of cataract cases involve women (1). Likewise, women are at a higher risk than men of developing AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration (2)), refractive errors (which occur when the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing directly on the retina (3,4)) and even blindness (5).

Simply put, as we age, women can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to our eye health. Now is the time to take proactive steps to protect our vision so that it is there for us in the decades ahead.

Myth 2: Deteriorating Vision is an Inevitable Part of Aging, and Nothing can be Done About it

Our perceptions of “normal aging” are colored by what we see in the media. When we see older adults on TV and in the movies struggling with eye-related problems, we subconsciously accept this situation as being “just a part of life,” along with the restrictions and emotional implications that come with deteriorating eyesight. This can be stressful!

The truth is that stereotypes are self-reinforcing. The more we believe that eye problems are inevitable after 60, the less likely we will be to take the proactive steps necessary to protect our vision.

Then, when we encounter problems, it’s easy to justify our lack of attention by telling ourselves, “Oh well, I guess that’s just life. There’s nothing I could have done about it anyway!”

In reality, we have more control over our eye health and treatment than we think. For example, did you know that while conditions like cataracts, which cloud the eye’s lens and are often a natural part of aging, cannot be prevented, they typically can be corrected? (6) And it’s a common issue – by the age of 65, more than 90 percent of people will develop cataracts where it starts to impair their vision! (6)

When you visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist, they can check your eyes for vision problems. Be sure to tell them about any red flags you’ve noticed with your vision, such as trouble seeing at night, especially while driving, sensitivity to light or colors seeming dull and flat.

If your eye doctor finds something wrong, they may be able to recommend treatment options that help you to correct and maintain your vision for a long time indeed. For example, if you have cataracts and astigmatism (a common vision condition that causes blurred vision due to a curvature in the eye lens or an irregularly shaped cornea (7)), ask your doctor about a treatment that can correct both conditions at once.

And, there’s little reason to be afraid of cataract surgery, one of the most common surgeries performed in the U.S. (8) In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Alcon and fielded by YouGov of about 1,300 people age 60 and over who have had cataract surgery, 93% of respondents said they would advise someone they knew who was debating or scared about cataract surgery to get the procedure.

The survey also found there are a range of emotions of emotions associated with cataracts – almost 60 percent of respondents report that having cataracts made them feel annoyed, frustrated or old, and more than 60 percent report they felt more independent because their eyesight was clear following surgery – all the more reason to talk to your doctor about the surgery (9).

If you’re interested in learning more about the signs and symptoms of cataracts and available treatment options, you can visit www.MyCataracts.com to get the facts on cataracts, and learn about treatment options. While there, you can also hear real patients talk about their cataract journey and the emotional benefits of the surgery.

Myth 3: By Our Age, the Damage Has Already Been Done

Talking with the women in our community, I have found that, when it comes to healthy aging, most of us fall into one of two camps. Women in the first group believe that “age is just a number” and double down on exercise, healthy eating and social activities. These women invest in their health now so that they will have the energy they need to explore the world in the best years of their lives.

Our sisters in the second group believe that “the damage has already been done” and continue to engage in activities that they know are harmful, such as smoking and indulging in one too many glasses of wine.

Of course, I’m oversimplifying here. Most of us fall somewhere towards the middle of the line between fatalism and freedom. I also realize that the changes that happen to our bodies in our 60s and better are real.

Those caveats in place, when it comes to protecting your health – and especially your vision – it is never too late to let go of bad habits and embrace positive ones. Let’s look at just a few examples.

Contrary to popular belief, it is never too late to quit smoking. For example, quitting smoking in your 60s can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and more. It is also one of the most positive steps that you can take to protect the health of your eyes.

According to Alcon, some other simple steps that we can take to protect our vision include:

  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Taking lutein, omega-3 and zeaxanthin supplements
  • Protecting our eyes from the sun with hats and sunglasses – as if we need another excuse to accessorize!
  • Practice safe cosmetics and beauty applications
  • Taking a break from our “screen time” every 20 minutes to let our eyes rest

When you think about it, none of these suggestions are rocket science. In fact, most of them are common sense. But, just because they aren’t complicated doesn’t mean that they aren’t important and can’t make us healthier and happier overall.

Being aware of these simple steps and the treatment options available, when combined with regular eye checkups with your doctor, have the power to change how you see the world for decades to come.

What positive steps are you taking to protect your eyesight as you get a little older? Do you wear sunglasses when outside? Do you get your eyes checked regularly? Do you have a #MyCataracts story to share about your treatment journey? Please join the conversation below, or share your #MyCataracts story on social media!

(1) National Eye Institute. Cataracts. https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/cataract. Accessed May 2017.

(2) National Eye Institute. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/amd. Accessed May 2017.

(3) National Eye Institute. Facts About Refractive Errors. https://nei.nih.gov/health/errors/errors. Accessed May 2017.

(4) National Eye Institute. Fact Sheet: Refractive Errors. https://www.nei.nih.gov/sites/default/files/health-pdfs/HVM09_Fact_Sheet_Final_tagged.pdf. Accessed May 2017.

(5) National Eye Institute. Blindness. https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/blind/. Accessed May 2017.

(6) Kellogg Eye Center. Cataract. http://www.umkelloggeye.org/conditions-treatments/cataract. Accessed May 2017.

(7) National Eye Institute. Astigmatism. https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/astigmatism. Accessed May 2017.

(8) National Eye Institute. Facts about Cataracts. https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.  Accessed May 2017.

(9) My Cataracts Survey Results. 2017.

© 2017 Novartis 6/17 US-CEI-17-E-1309

Let's Have a Conversation!