Position your practice for aging eyes

Position your practice for aging eyes

America is aging, and optometrists' roles as primary eye care providers for this expanding population have taken on new importance.

"You need to have empathy and patience to work effectively with this population and understand what these patients are going through."

Ahead of Grandparents Day this September 13, doctors of optometry can begin to prepare to treat an influx of elderly patients. As the population ages, patients are at an increased risk for age-related eye diseases, which have the potential to cause vision impairment. Timely and appropriate referral to low-vision rehabilitation services can help patients maximize their remaining vision, allowing them to perform activities of daily living and have improved quality of life.

In addition to ensuring healthy vision for these patients, it's up to ODs to provide access to care in institutions, curate information from the Internet, facilitate vision rehabilitation, keep family members involved and address policy through legislation.

"As many of us are well aware, the baby boomer generation is exploding and our average age continues to get older and older," says Eric Baas, O.D., chief of the Alfred and Sarah Rosenbloom Center on Vision and Aging at the Illinois College of Optometry.

What used to be a small subset of patients is quickly becoming the primary subset of patients, Dr. Baas observes. A 2014 report from the Pew Research Center estimates that the Medicare-age population will, for the first time, surpass those 15 and younger by 2030. Couple those statistics with the National Eye Care Workforce Study—organized by the AOA and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry—which cites the growth of the aging U.S. population as a key factor in the demand for optometric services through 2025.

As the AOA continues to advocate for improved Medicare coverage of eye exams and other eye care needs, optometrists in the field are employing various strategies to care for a population that often deals with a myriad of complex conditions. In many cases, these patients may struggle to communicate their needs or have physical limitations. Caring for this population requires patience, Dr. Baas says.

"You need to understand that they may have hearing deficits or mobility issues, and there is sometimes cognitive decline. You need to have empathy and patience to work effectively with this population and understand what these patients are going through."

Click here to learn how AOA-member optometrists cater to elderly patients in their practices, and read more about out how ODs help elderly patients make a critical decision—and maintain their independence.

AOA members can find resources on healthy vision for older adults on the AOA's website.

August 18, 2015

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