It’s the source of many jokes, but it’s based in truth: As people age, their health concerns become a frequent conversation topic. So, surely your parents — along with their lists of other aches and pains — would mention failing eyesight, right?
Not necessarily. When it comes to cataracts, the changes in your parents’ vision may be gradual and just seem like a normal part of growing older. It may be up to you to start the conversation about cataracts if your parents are over 60 and any of these situations sound familiar:
- Your mom mentions blurry vision or double vision in one eye.
- Your dad has difficulty with or increased anxiety around night driving.
- Your step-dad mentions seeing halos around lights, such as streetlights or headlights at night.
- You’ve noticed your step-mom bought brighter lamps for reading and needlework.
- They’ve had frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions.
Maybe your mom or dad just hasn’t noticed the changes, or maybe they’re scared to bring it up. The idea of surgery can be terrifying, or they might be embarrassed that they’re on the verge of losing their independence or their favorite hobbies.
If you think cataracts might be a problem, approach the conversation with empathy and let them know you care about their health. Mike Gamble of Our Aging Parents cautions you to “be careful to express your concerns in a way that does not patronize or embarrass your parent. Above all, don’t use phrases like ‘You need to …’ or ‘I need you to …’ or ‘You have to ….’” A scolding or condescending tone can get in the way of your parent taking you seriously.
The Ben Rose Institute on Aging says you should prepare for some resistance: “It is hard for many parents to have their adult children telling them what to do … If they’re not ready to make decisions, respect their stance on these issues.” When they are ready, share these facts so your parent can make an informed choice about investigating cataract surgery.
The diagnostic tests are readily available at an ophthalmologist. Trained eye care professionals, such as those at OCLI, will perform simple, in-office tests (such as dilating the pupils with eye drops and examining the eyes with a light) to look for cataracts.
Not all cataracts will need surgery immediately. Doctors recommend surgery when the cataract(s) interfere with the patient’s daily activities and quality of life. But for most people, delaying surgery or trying other options first (such as stronger glasses) won’t cause long-term damage.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common and safest surgeries, according to the National Eye Institute. The NEI also says that about 90% of cataract surgery patients have better vision afterward.
Medicare covers most of the costs of standard cataract surgery. If your parent is eligible for Medicare, they should talk with the ophthalmologist about what parts of the procedure are covered and what is not.
Most people don’t need general anesthesia. The surgery time is short, and it’s simple enough that most people choose to be awake, with local anesthetics.
Patients go home the same day. Cataract surgery is performed as an outpatient surgery, meaning your parent won’t have to worry about a hospital stay.
Plan to take it easy after cataract surgery. It’s easy to understand precautions like keeping the eye area clean and not rubbing the eye till it’s healed. But the ophthalmologist may also tell your parent to refrain from bending over to pick things up or lifting heavy weights during healing. These restrictions are just as vital to a speedy recovery.
Cataract surgery may lengthen your parent’s life. A study out of Australia suggests that the surgery not only improves the quality of the patient’s life but could also improve longevity.
Laser cataract surgery offers improvements over traditional surgery. Skilled surgeons can use lasers instead of blades to remove cataracts, which typically leads to fewer side effects and even better post-surgery vision. The laser portion of cataract surgery is not covered by insurance.
Ultimately, choosing cataract surgery is your parent’s decision. But you can help them get all the facts. Talk to them about scheduling a consultation with OCLI to find out if HD cataract surgery can help them get back to the things they love to do.