As the nation was left grinning at the official photograph of Prince William and his three children to mark Father’s Day, attention now turns to the royal’s birthday. Having spent his life dedicated to performing official duties on behalf of the Queen, the Duke holds patronage of over 30 charities and military organisations. Having spoken passionately about various subjects including mental health, conservation and emergency workers, a few years ago during a BBC documentary, the royal revealed that his ageing eyesight makes it difficult for him to see people’s faces when making these speeches.
During the documentary Football, Prince William and Out Mental Health, which aired back in May 2020 the Prince shared: “My eyesight started to tail off a little bit as I got older, and I didn’t used to wear contacts when I was working, so when I gave speeches I couldn’t see anyone’s face.”
Despite the worrying symptoms the royal went on to say that the condition has in reality helped him cope with his anxiety.
He continued to say: “And it helps, because it’s just a blur of faces and because you can’t see anyone looking at you – I can see enough to read the paper and stuff like that – but I couldn’t actually see the whole room.
“And actually that really helped with my anxiety…
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“You’re like, ‘This has to go right. I don’t want to mess this up’. There’s a lot of people watching and you can see certain people.
“[But] because I couldn’t see everyone’s eyes, you didn’t feel like the whole weight of the room is watching you.”
Seeming unbothered about his deteriorating eyesight, it can be assumed that the Duke has taken steps to help curb the effects of his vision loss, which in most cases happens due to natural causes.
Dr. Mitul Mehta, an ophthalmologist with the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute explains that just as the body ages, eyesight will begin to change and deteriorate as individuals get older. Whilst some changes are driven by heredity, others are exacerbated by dry sunny climates. However, all are made worse by smoking.
Dr Mehta goes on to list the main health conditions that may affect the eyes as we age as well as their top tips for keeping eyes healthier for longer.
The first, presbyopia is a condition that affects the lenses of the eyes. Over time they become less flexible and make it difficult for individuals to focus on close objects. This most commonly affects individuals in their mid-40s and 50s and explains why older individuals may find that they need reading glasses.
A lifetime of inflammation caused by the sun, wind, high blood pressure, stress and other factors can cause eyes to become dry. Individuals with dry eyes do not make enough tears or tears dry up quickly leaving their eyes with the following symptoms:
- Sensitive to light
- More watery than normal.
Fortunately dry eyes can usually be treated with over-the-counter medication or by individuals ensuring their eyes are clean on a regular basis. Some research has suggested that eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna and halibut, or including flax or chia seeds into the diet, may help prevent the condition from developing.
Glaucoma is a common eye condition where the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain becomes damaged. Known as the “silent disease,” glaucoma symptoms do not appear until very late in the diseases’ process. It is for this reason that eye exams are recommended every two to three years after age 40.
The condition is caused by a build-up of fluid in the front part of the eye which in turn increases pressure from inside of the eye and can gradually lead to loss of vision if it is not treated. Both eyes are usually affected, although it may be worse in one eye.
As people age, almost everyone experiences floaters. These are tiny white or black specks that move around in the field of vision. They occur when the “jelly-like fluid” behind the eye’s lens starts to break down, usually when people are in their late 50s and 60s. Floaters are usually not a serious problem. However, Dr Mehta notes that “a sudden shower of floaters accompanied by light flashes needs to be checked by an eye doctor right away.”
Approximately 330,000 cataract operations are performed each year in England alone. The condition occurs when the eye’s natural lens begins to turn cloudy or discoloured causing vision to become hazy.
Surgery usually restores vision as cloudy lenses are replaced by a synthetic lens, however Dr Mehta recommends individuals take vitamin C, as well as decreasing their exposure to wind and the sun’s UV rays by wearing sunglasses and hats in order to help prevent the condition in the first place.
The final condition Dr Mehta describes is age-related dry macular degeneration (AMD). This condition occurs when a part of the retina, known as the macula, begins to thin with age and to develop clumps of protein. Although AMD doesn’t create total blindness, it does result in the loss of central vision, which individuals require for basic functions, such as seeing facial expressions, driving, reading, cooking or fixing things around the house.
Currently there is no treatment available for dry AMD but vision aids can help to reduce the effect of the condition on an individual’s life. Reducing sun exposure and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is also recommended to help control symptoms.
Dr Mehta along with The National Institute on Ageing offers the following tips to maintain healthy eyes:
- Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) radiation and a wide-brimmed hat when you are outdoors.
- Quit smoking, which increases the risk of eye diseases.
- Eat nutritious foods that support eye health.
- Be physically active and maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce high blood pressure, which can contribute to eye problems.
- If you have diabetes, which can lead to blindness, it’s important to control it.
- When focused on a computer or a single object, reduce eye strain by looking away every 20 minutes for about 20 seconds.