The Fine Print: Why Your Vision Gets Fuzzy During Middle Age

How is it that, when you turn 40-whatever, birthday cards (fittingly), menus and magazines suddenly become illegible unless you hold them at arm’s length? Welcome to middle age, when all print becomes a little too little.

Most people notice their ability to see up close slipping during their early to mid-40s, according to Mayo Clinic. Presbyopia occurs when the lens of the eye, which loses pliability over time, stiffens to the point of no longer flexing into position to focus on nearby objects. Far-sighted folks can see changes as early as their late 30s. Others sneak by unscathed into their early 50s. Everyone — gender, race and overall health have zero effect — eventually experiences the blur, according to Mayo.

Women can need correction earlier than men. The reason? Arm length. Recent research suggests that because presbyopic eyes focus more easily at a distance, taller people (i.e., men), who typically have longer arms, may not need lenses as strong as shorter folks. Go figure.

Sorry, There’s No Prevention

Unfortunately, there aren’t any eye exercises or supplements that postpone or minimize presbyopia. For some, adding bifocals to an existing lens prescription is enough. Others find that special contact lenses correct both near and distance issues. If presbyopia is your only vision problem, reading glasses (fondly known as “readers” or “cheaters”) are a simple fix.

Off-the-rack readers – available at drugstores, grocery stores, even discount and dollar stores – make the transition easy. At $10 to $20 a pop, you can experiment with “fashion” and color, and buy extra pairs to stash in different rooms, your purse and office, or even customize the correction per task (think reading a book versus surfing the Web).

Ready-made readers, however, are one-size-fits-all. If you have a slightly different prescription in each eye or a slight astigmatism, over-the-counter readers could give you headaches or eyestrain. If this happens, see your eye doctor for a custom prescription.

A Cheat(er) Sheet

Readers/cheaters come in a range of strengths, with the lowest labeled +1.00 and increasing in increments of +0.25 to a maximum of +2.5 to +3.5, depending on limits set by your state. Anyone who needs more power than the state allows belongs in prescription glasses.

Stores display readers next to a test card with rows of words, ranging from small to large type, corresponding to prescription strengths. Use the card to determine your starting point. Then try on glasses above and below that strength until you find the right correction.

Afraid of Looking Like a Granny?

Don’t fret. Companies such as Eyebobs, Warby Parker and even Zappos offer chic, though more expensive, cheaters that stylishly transcend those sold in three-packs or off the racks.

Just remember that readers are no substitute for regular visits to your eye doctor. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people older than 40 with no vision problems have their eyes examined every two to four years. For people 65 and older, it’s checkups every one to two years.

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