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Retire Better

Dec. 7, 2021, 9:42 a.m. EST

Medicare may stop short at covering your eyes — what can you do?

By Paul Brandus

Older Americans know that Medicare doesn’t cover so-called “above the neck” things like dental care, vision and hearing. Who needs good teeth, eyes and ears, anyway? 

President Biden has proposed covering these things in his social spending bill that’s stuck in Congress, but a wall of opposition from Republicans, and a few Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, has forced the president to retreat. The new bill he’s pushing would cover hearing, but for dental care and vision, seniors will continue paying out of pocket for insurance.

Of course, preventive medicine is the best—and cheapest—care of all. And when it comes to maintaining good vision, there are plenty of things you can do to take better care of your eyes. Some things are amazingly simple. 

Read: Seniors get the biggest Social Security raise in years — and it’s already eaten up by inflation

Drink water.  “Drinking more water helps your body produce tears, which is important to prevent dry eyes ,” writes Dr. Vicente Diaz, a Yale University ophthalmologist. Plain water, naturally flavored or carbonated is best; Diaz recommends avoiding caffeinated beverages or alcohol.

Walk more.  Everyone knows that exercise is a great health and antiaging remedy in general, but it turns out it’s also good for keeping your vision sharp. The  American Journal of Ophthalmology  notes that even low-to-moderate exercise reduces the likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration—which affects some 2 million Americans. On top of this, a 2018 study of glaucoma patients found that walking an extra 5,000 steps a day could slow the rate of vision loss by 10%. So: go take a hike.  

Eat right.  Sure, it’s true that carrots are good for your peepers. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says also be sure to include foods with omega-3 fatty acids in your diet—tuna, and salmon, for example. Also leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, which are loaded with eye-friendly nutrients and antioxidants. Vitamin C is also very good for your eyes, which means oranges and grapefruits. Orange juice is high in sugar however, so all things in moderation. 

But exercise, staying hydrated and eating right are only half the battle. Sunglasses can guard against damaging UV rays, which can lead to cataracts. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that shades are only needed on sunny days. “Don your sunglasses summer and winter, whether it’s sunny or cloudy,” urges health writer Michael Dregni in  ExperienceLife.com  

Step away from the screen.  Research sponsored by  The Vision Council  claims that 59% of people who “routinely use computers and digital devices” (in other words practically everyone) “experience symptoms of digital eyestrain (also known as computer eyestrain or computer vision syndrome).” 

In addition to cutting back on screen time, if that’s even possible, the visual advice site  AllAboutVision.com  offers tips on how to reduce eyestrain, starting with cutting down on ambient lighting—fewer and lower intensity bulbs. Reduce exterior light by closing drapes, shades or blinds. Other tips: 

  • If possible, position your computer screen so windows are to the side, instead of in front or behind it.

  • Your screen should be about 20 to 24 inches from your eyes, and some 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes. This reduces strain on your head and neck.

  • If you wear glasses, consider buying lenses with “anti-reflective” (AR) coating, which reduces glare. 

  • Consider getting a new computer with a better screen. Go for the highest possible: a “dot pitch” of 0.28MM or smaller. Hopefully the salesperson can help you with this.

  • Whether you get a new computer or not, adjust your display setting to minimize eyestrain. Tone down the brightness. Make text sizes bigger if needed.

  • And when online, blink more often—I have a Post-It note about my screen to remind me of this—blinking helps keep your eyes moist.

Finally, what about “blue light” glasses? I keep hearing that they help protect your eyes, but the Cleveland Clinic recently cited this study  which determined “there was little evidence to support the use of blue-blocking filters in the prevention of digital eyestrain.” 

On the other hand, it adds that “blue light is known to sabotage your sleep schedule because it messes with your  circadian rhythm  (your internal clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep or be awake).” So the clinic adds that if you “insist on scrolling through your phone late at night or have insomnia, blue light glasses might be a good option.”

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