Why do we need to wear reading glasses as we get older?

Guest post by Optometrist Tim Harwood

Just as we get wrinkles and grey hair as we get older, the same is true of us having to wear reading glasses.

You may, however, be surprised to hear that people start needing reading glasses from as young as 40 years old, although the average is typically 45 years. Once we reach this age, it’s not as if our ability to read things clearly suddenly stops, it is a much more gradual process than that. We will initially start to hold things that we are reading a little bit further away from us and we will only struggle with very fine print. We will also  initially only struggle when the light levels are poor or if we are tired. However, as the years pass by, we will need our reading glasses for all close tasks and that includes simple things like checking the time on our watch or reading a text message on our phone.

What is the reason for this loss of reading vision?
To help understand why this happens it is best to first explain the anatomy of the eye. Just behind our pupil we have a lens within our eye that functions to help us focus on the object that we are looking at. This natural lens in our eye is similar to that in a camera, in that it constantly changes shape to focus on objects at different distances. Our own natural lens is far quicker than a camera lens and makes the focusing modifications almost instantly.

When we are looking at distant objects, the lens in our eye is flat and completely relaxed. When we focus on a near object, the lens in our eye changes to a more rounded shape. The closer the object we are looking at, the greater the amount the lens has to change shape, which requires the maximum amount of effort from the muscles controlling it. As we get older, the lens in our eye hardens, meaning it is less flexible and consequently doesn’t change shape as easily.

This is the reason our near vision gets progressively worse as we pass the 45-year-old mark.

Is there anything that can be done about it?
In terms of slowing down the process, the answer is no. It is a natural aging process and occurs regardless of sex or race. Both glasses and contact lenses can correct blurred near vision and laser eye surgery is becoming an increasingly popular treatment too. CK Treatment and mono-vision laser eye surgery are recent developments in laser vision correction that can improve your near vision, although they are not perfect solutions.

Tim Harwood is an optometrist with over 8 years experience. He has worked in the UK and Australia for both multiple and independent opticians. >His areas of interest include laser eye surgery and contact lenses.