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New light on old eyes

I have concluded that one of the biggest obstacles to aging successfully is lost control.

One notable example is when we lose vision, which can mean newspaper print is too small or road signs are blurry.

Those visual losses can lead to further loss, including that satisfying moment with morning coffee while reading the news of the day. Or bigger losses like the modification or elimination of driving privileges.

Visual changes are just one illustration. There are so many. On a grander scale, we may lose a career we enjoyed to retirement, or a retirement we loved to a debilitating illness. Some experts are quick to refer to this as “lost independence,” but I think it’s more about lost control. And may I encourage you to rise up and resist — or it will, indeed, become lost independence. I use the word “resist” intentionally.

I have thought about this a lot. I offer a few select recommendations about age-related visual loss with an encouragement toward practical, wisdom-filled resistance.

Is your vision compromised? Have your eyes evaluated by an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor specializing in diseases of the eye) at least once a year. Take someone who knows you along to the appointment. Maybe ask them to take notes. Ask your eye doc about the pros and cons of low vision aids and the role of nutrient-dense eating in any eye pathology. Listen to the advice you are given and apply it. Resist the idea that a visual loss has to mean increased dependency.

But wait, there’s more. Purchase the best available hand-held magnification and keep it by the chair you sit in to drink your morning coffee. Aw, heck, purchase a lot of magnifiers. Put them all over your home. Clean your glasses regularly, and keep those magnifiers clean, too. Wear sunglasses when you are outside (neutral gray lenses are supposedly the best) and keep them in a case when you are not wearing them so they do not get scratched. And keep eye protection in mind with the upcoming eclipse.

Be particularly aware of the phenomena called dark adaption. It takes longer when we are older, which means you will see less well in the dark after being in the light, and vice versa. This is particularly applicable to driving. Experts say that “90 percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision, and we were just not engineered to see very well in the dark.”

Thoughtfully assess the lighting in your home (older eyes need at least three to four times more light; some experts say up to 11 times more light).

I met an 87-year-old woman recently who had macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in older adults). She had an oversized (make that “huge”) floor lamp illuminating and back-lighting the sitting area in her living room. She could no longer drive, but she could sit on her couch and read storybooks to her visiting grandchildren, keep up with her embroidery and educate/model coping skills for me and any other guests.

Let’s call this one example of thoughtful, resistive accommodation to the lost control we experience as we age.

Can you see it?

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.