If you have reached age 65, you have a 50 percent chance of having at least one cataract.
At 75 or older, you almost certainly have or have been treated for cataracts as nearly everyone, according to some sources, develops them by then. Age is the biggest predictor of cataracts and each year, three million people in the U.S. undergo surgery to replace the clouded lenses of their eyes.
The reason I know this is that I spent part of the weekend boning up on cataracts because on Friday, my new eye doctor told me that I have a cataract in each eye.
Damn and double damn. I have no patience with health problems.
So far, I have no symptoms. My vision is as good as it has always been with corrective contact lenses and the doctor says that the progression is gradual. I will need surgery, depending on the speed at which the cataracts develop, in two to seven years.
FUNNY ASIDE: You know how little kids hold up their fingers and tell you they are four years old. And they are particular about portions of a year saying, “I'm five-and-one-half years old.” Since this was a new doctor on Friday, he took a history of my vision health. When he asked how long I've worn contact lenses, I didn't say, “50 years” or “half a century.” Oh, no. Apparently having regressed to childhood, I heard myself say, “51 years,” adding that “one” as proudly as a little kid approaching her next birthday.
There are some myths about cataracts that are worth knowing:
• Aspirin does not prevent cataracts and can be dangerous in high doses.
• Vitamins C and E cannot prevent cataracts. They are being studied in this regard, but there is no proof yet and results will not be known for years.
• Cataracts cannot be treated with eye drops. Surgery is the only proven treatment.
• Nothing can be done to slow the progression of cataracts although if you are in the sun a lot, wearing UV-protective sunglasses will help a little.
In July 2009, the National Institutes of Health reported that researchers have discovered a gene, EphA2, associated with the formation of age-related cataracts. This could lead, eventually, to new and better treatments, but I'm not holding my breath for it to happen before I need surgery.
Among the known risk factors for cataracts are:
Long-term steroid use
Long-term exposure to UV rays
Most of all, age
Because the surgery is 95 percent successful, cataracts appear to be relatively easy to deal with. Removing them and inserting new, clear lenses takes only 15 to 20 minutes and is done one eye at a time over three weeks on an outpatient basis. Recovery is quick and many people resume normal activity within a day or two.
Medicare covers the cost of cataract surgery and ordinary replacement lenses. There are premium lenses Medicare does not cover that can correct both near and far vision; they cost about $5,000 above what Medicare pays.
A bonus (if you can call it that) to having been diagnosed with cataracts, I discovered on Friday, is that Medicare will pay for my vision checkups now leaving only a $20 copay for me. Medicare does not otherwise cover vision.
I'm guessing some of you reading this have experience with cataracts.
Having nothing to do with cataracts, here's a little something to make you feel good today. Dr. Bill Thomas of Changing Aging sent along a link to this video he describes as “two groovin' elders.” And so they are. Mark Penton and Harvey Berman singing and playing Sixteen Tons.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alan Ginocchio: The Adventures of Snake Boy