Food & Fitness After 50: Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

Sheah tatoo

On her recent birthday, my friend Sheah got a Hamsa tattooed on her right shoulder for protection from the evil eye. When you know her history of eye issues, you will understand why she desires protection.

Now in her 60s, she sported her first pair of glasses at age 6 and her severe myopia made her reach for her “coke bottle lens glasses” upon awakening to be able to see anything. Her eyesight deteriorated to the point where she was wearing bifocals in the 6th grade; something that most of us don’t need until we are well into our 40s. At age 50, she failed the vision test when renewing her driver’s license and was diagnosed with macular pucker in her right eye, requiring surgery.
The macula is a small area in the back of the eye with special light sensing cells that lets us see clearly. Sheah’s surgery improved her vision for a few years but soon she developed a cataract in the same eye, leading to another surgery. This time, the surgery resulted in perfect vision in her right eye for the first time in her life.

Let’s stop for a minute and explain that there are some normal eye changes as we age that are easily remedied with bi- or trifocals. Around the age of 40 we start to lose the ability to focus on close objects…we’ve all been there, holding the book or newspaper in outstretched arms so we can read the fine print. That is called presbyopia (prez-bee-opie-ah) and, while the timing varies greatly in folks, it is most likely that all older adults will experience it.

However, there are some eye disorders that occur more frequently with aging, but are not a natural part of getting older. One of those disorders is cataracts that occur when the normally clear lens of the eye gets cloudy. You might notice halos around lights or have trouble driving at night or that your vision appears hazy. Your eye doctor can diagnose and treat it, but eventually you might need cataract surgery to replace the lens, which is a real modern medicine marvel. As Sheah noted, her vision cleared up and she could see perfectly without glasses or contact lens.
So, where did we leave off with Sheah’s story? All was going well until an unfortunate accident occurred 5 days in to a 3-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. tripping on stone pavers, she fell face forward. Patched up she continued her trip of a lifetime but 10 months later noticed “a curtain of darkness falling over her eye.” Emergency surgery to repair a detached retina was the treatment and her eye doctor believed the fall caused the injury. The worse part of the surgery is having lay face down for 7 days post-op. Sheah rented a message chair to use in her recovery. Because she has had vision problems for her whole life, she has developed healthy coping strategies, like humor, to deal with her eye traumas. “I had a massage therapist come to my house for massages; since I had the chair, why not put it to good use?” Despite all of the eye surgeries, she still travels extensively, with her next trip coming up soon…to India. The latest surgery, an intra-ocular lens replacement, has left her with reduced vision, but her advice is to “not let injuries define or limit you.”

While Sheah’s eye issues were not related to nutrition, there are nutrients that play an important role in protecting our eyesight as we age. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant plant pigments concentrated in the eye and are found in deeply colored veggies, like dark leafy greens, squash, pumpkin, and in egg yolk and avocado. I’ll be sharing more about eye health and age-related macular degeneration in a future post.
Sheah is committed to reducing fall risk by taking Pilates, something she has always enjoyed, to strengthen and stretch her muscles and improved flexibility and balance. She also is sure to get plenty of  lutein and zeaxanthin.
She also says cool glasses frames not only improve her vision, but “they are a great accessary to cover up eye wrinkles.” I told you she had a good sense of humor!

Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray welcome your questions on food and fitness for older adults. Their new book, Food & Fitness After 50 , is available for pre-order at