Seeing Past Fear: Cataracts
Issue No. 3: Words from the Wise
Words - AMANDA WHITBRED
Towards the end of her life, the shopping lists my grandmother, Ginna, would write for me were almost illegible. The careful cursive of a retired elementary school teacher was gone, replaced by suggestions of letters, scratches of ink on the backs of envelopes.
Ginna’s handwriting was a victim of her deteriorating eyesight. In her 80s she began developing cataracts, and as she approached 90 she could no longer see things as sharply as she once could.
A cataract, according to the National Eye Institute, is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. While cataracts are a leading cause of blindness worldwide, in the United States corrective surgery is readily available, safe, effective, and covered by Medicare.
Ginna was terrified of going blind, but she was more frightened by the prospect of what we jokingly referred to as “eyeball surgery.” Despite the ick-factor, surgery to remove cataracts is a common outpatient procedure; the cloudy lens of the eye is gently removed and an artificial lens is inserted in its place. The procedure is considered highly effective, 90 percent of the time. A study published in 2017 found that there was a 60 percent lower risk of death in women over 65 who had their cataracts removed compared to women of the same age who declined the surgery.
In the end, Ginna’s quality of life was reduced by both her failing eyesight and her stubborn refusal to go for an eye exam. She could no longer read the books she loved or sign her name in the cards she sent her grandchildren. But she let her fear of the surgery stand between her and the things she enjoyed.
Her story is not unique. It’s not uncommon for people to get cataracts as they age and require surgery. By age 80, more than half of Americans have a cataract or have had cataract surgery; 61% of those individuals are women. The number of people in the U.S. with cataracts is expected to double from 24.4 million to 50 million by 2050.
Common symptoms of cataracts include blurred or cloudy vision, a glare or halo effect when you look at a light, colors that appear faded, trouble seeing at night, and double vision. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of of these symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor for a comprehensive eye exam.