Glaucoma Awareness Month Resources for Senior Home Care Givers

by Kaye Swain

Have you ever gone to an eye doctor appointment and had that little puff of air squirted in your eyes? It always makes me jump! Testing for glaucoma is not much fun but it's definitely vital. Since January is officially National Glaucoma Awareness Month, I was glad to get an email from Julie Hurvitz with EyeCare America – The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. It turns out EyeCare America's site is a wonderful resource for the Sandwich Generation, providing great info for eye problems and diseases from pink eye in a grandchild to macular degeneration in an elderly parent to glaucoma which can affect eyes of all ages, though primarily senior citizens.

Looking through the site, I discovered a wide variety of interesting facts about glaucoma. Did you know:

  • Ignoring glaucoma can lead to total blindness.
  • Glaucoma affects at least three million people in the United States and, according to the World Health Organization, it's the second leading cause of blindness around the world.
  • Of those who have glaucoma, half do not realize it!
  • Glaucoma can be hereditary.
  • Those at high risk of glaucoma include African Americans, Hispanics, senior citizens over the age of 60.
  • Some others who may be at risk include those who have Diabetes, those with "high myopia (nearsightedness)," those with hypertension, or those who have a thin central corneal
  • Another risk – If you have had an injury to the eye, it can lead to a variant of glaucoma – and that can even happen years later. (Hmmm, that may include some of our grandkids?!?!?!)
  • There are often no warning symptoms.
  • There is no cure, however medication and surgery can stop or slow this disease.

Those are some rather scary facts! So what can be done? The EyeCare America site says, "Early detection, through regular and complete eye exam, is the key to protecting your vision from damage caused by glaucoma…Your eyes should be tested:

  • before age 40, every two to four years
  • from age 40 to age 54, every one to three years
  • from age 55 to 64, every one to two years
  • after age 65, every six to 12 months
  • Anyone with high risk factors should be tested every year or two after age 35!"

As Julie wrote me, "If detected early, there is hope! Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops that lower eye pressure, laser therapy that allows for better drainage of fluids inside the eye, or eye surgery to create a new drainage canal. Glaucoma doesn’t have to interfere with leading a happy, sighted and fulfilling life. So if you or a loved one is not getting regular eye exams, just remember that a simple, quick and painless office test can save your eye sight!" Talk about GOOD NEWS!

Since I am one who has EXTREME near sightedness, I regularly go for an eye exam every year or two. My senior mom is good about it, as well, because I make her appointment at the same time I make mine. Now that I've seen this information, I'll be making sure we both go every year! I wish I'd learned this sooner, as I know that some of my beloved elderly friends and relatives in the past did NOT. I'll definitely be writing a couple relatives and friends now to check on them. :)

Now for some more good news:

  • If your elderly parent has Medicare, it may provide some coverage. According to the Medicare website: "Medicare covers an annual (once every 12 months) dilated eye examination for all people with Medicare at high risk for glaucoma. This includes people with diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, and African Americans age 50 and older. The screening must be done or supervised by an eye doctor who is legally allowed to do this service in your state. Medicare covers 80% of the Medicare-approved amount for glaucoma screening after the individual has paid the deductible for Part B services. You should check with your local Medicare Carrier for specific coverage information for glaucoma screening."
  • My senior parents' HMO/Medicare plan did provide for some optometry care. Our later optometrist did not give us this option. I'm not sure if she wasn't aware of it, if they just didn't accept Medicare, or if there was another reason. Another case of not having learned the right questions to ask.  It would certainly be worthwhile to ask what your options are when making an appointment. I'll be calling our new optometrist this week, so I'm so glad I've learned these questions to ask!
  • If you have a membership in AARP, be sure to tell your optometrist. Many offer an AARP discount.

For Senior Citizens over 65, EyeCareAmerica has a wonderful program called the National Give the Gift of Sight Campaign. "The Seniors EyeCare program is designed for people who:

  • Are US citizens or legal residents
  • Are age 65 and older
  • Have not seen an ophthalmologist in three or more years
  • Do not belong to an HMO or the VA

To determine if you, a family member, or friend qualify for a referral through this program, call 800-222-EYES (3937) toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a yearPeople eligible for a referral through the program receive a comprehensive, medical eye exam and up to one year of care – at no out-of-pocket cost – for any disease diagnosed during the initial exam. Volunteer ophthalmologists accept Medicare and/or other insurance reimbursement as payment in full; patients without insurance receive care at no charge." Please note that "eyeglasses, prescription drugs, hospital services, and fees of other medical professionals are not included in this program."

This would have been an awesome option for a dear friend of mine a few years back! I will definitely be saving this information to pass on to others. And I'll be making sure I don't dilly-dally on eye doctor appointments in the future – for the health of my senior mom's eyes, and later, my own.

If you have heard of a similar program for countries outside of the U.S., we'd love for you to share that info in the comments. And be sure to sign up for the FREE SandwichINK email, so you don't miss future resources to inform and encourage Sandwich Generation senior home care givers and grandparents. :)