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Medicine Science

Aging Eyes Blamed For Seniors' Health Woes 149

Hugh Pickens writes "Scientists have looked for explanations as to why certain conditions occur with age, among them memory loss, slower reaction time, insomnia and even depression looking at such suspects as high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease and an inactive lifestyle. Now Laurie Tarkan writes that as eyes age, less and less sunlight gets through the lens to reach key cells in the retina that regulate the body's circadian rhythm, its internal clock that rallies the body to tackle the day's demands in the morning and slows it down at night, allowing the body to rest and repair. 'Evolution has built this beautiful timekeeping mechanism, but the clock is not absolutely perfect and needs to be nudged every day,' says Dr. David Berson, whose lab at Brown University studies how the eye communicates with the brain. Dr. Patricia Turner, an ophthalmologist who with her husband, Dr. Martin Mainster has written extensively about the effects of the aging eye on health, estimate that by age 45, the photoreceptors of the average adult receive just 50 percent of the light needed to fully stimulate the circadian system, by age 55, it dips to 37 percent, and by age 75, to a mere 17 percent and recommend that people should make an effort to expose themselves to bright sunlight or bright indoor lighting when they cannot get outdoors and have installed skylights and extra fluorescent lights in their own offices to help offset the aging of their own eyes. 'In modern society, most of the time we live in a controlled environment under artificial lights, which are 1,000 to 10,000 times dimmer than sunlight and the wrong part of the spectrum,' says Turner. 'We believe the effect is huge and that it's just beginning to be recognized as a problem.'"
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Aging Eyes Blamed For Seniors' Health Woes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:18PM (#39112941)
    I usually keep the lights here in the basement off.
  • by na1led ( 1030470 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:20PM (#39112959)
    What are the effects of too much exposure to light? Should I use a screen filter for my monitor?
    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:30PM (#39113121)

      It wouldn't be a bad idea, but honestly if you had a problem you'd know it by now, take it from someone with a circadian rhythm disorder. During my bad spells I have every symptom of an 80 year old man; lack of concentration, poor memory, poor reaction time, moodiness and anger, physical exhaustion, and of course extreme drowsiness. And that's even if I manage to get a decent 6 hours of sleep, when your body is determined that it is time to sleep it does not appreciate being kept awake. You can push through it for a day or two, maybe a week with enough willpower, but 3 weeks into a stretch where your body thinks that 5AM to 1PM is the perfect time to sleep when family, work, and friends all think differently... well... yeah... you'd know if you had circadian rhythm problems.

      • by Sevalecan ( 1070490 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:40PM (#39113259)

        I actually have a circadian rhythm disorder myself. Between 2005 and 2010 my sleep 'schedule' would go around the clock fully over a period of every 1-2 weeks. So, part of the time I was up during only the night, sometimes in between, sometimes during normal parts of the day. I have a greater than 24-hour sleep cycle naturally it would seem. However, I've been maintaining a pretty normal schedule for 1.5 years now. I started using sublingual 2.5mg melatonin lozenges after my sister told me about them. It totally did the trick in my case.

        Of course, more relevant to the article, there are lamps you can also buy for bright light therapy. I actually just got myself one about 11 days ago. It can take up to a few weeks to have an effect, and I think I've finally started to feel a measurable effect over the past 3 days, but I'll see how it goes before I make a final determination. According to what I've read, it can help with circadian rhythm disorders, but I personally bought it for the antidepressant effect. Perhaps I'll be able to switch over to using only the light, which would be pretty neat. But I wouldn't complain if I still had to use melatonin.

        • Can you toss more information on those lozenges to me? I seem to have almost the exact same issue you describe having.

          • by durrr ( 1316311 )
            Melatonin is considered a supplment in some parts of the world, and prescription drug in others. If considered a supplement where you live, go to the pharmacy and pick up ~1mg pills, should do the trick(effective dose is something like 0,1mg)
            • You take it a little before the desired "bed time" I take it?

              We have nonprescription sleep aids that have melatonin in it, so I'm assuming for now I can actually get it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Sevalecan ( 1070490 )

            I use the Nature's Way Sublingual Melatonin in the 2.5mg potency. You can order it on Amazon, [] if you prefer. They also come in other forms where you just swallow them, but then you tend to have to take them a few hours before you go to bed, whereas you can take the lozenge closer or at the time you intend to go to sleep.

            Disclaimer: I'm no doctor of course, but I'm told it's perfectly safe. I actually know of 3 people other than myself that use it without issues. I've also heard that if you take much more th

            • Melatonin is one of the body's natural substances - I think the synthetic is supposed to be identical. I used it for a while, then quit, now just starting up again. It evidently works best when taken at the same time every day and then go to bed, not to read. In my case (before) it worked for a while in getting me to sleep but I would still wake up two or three times a night. After a while it quit working entirely. I was not good at the 'same time every day' part, so I think that my body just decided t

              • If you take it every night the effects will wear off. I take it two nights a week, same dose for a year now and all is well.
          • There is a name for the disorder now. Well if it really is a disorder. It is called Non-24 [] or sometimes N24. Not a great name, but what can you do?

            I have struggled with this for years. I don't understand how others who have this can hold down any kind of normal 8 hr per day job. Every time I try I end up getting fired for being late during the half of my cycle when I can only sleep during the day.

            I have a Philips GoLite and after many trials I can confidently say that it does not work for me. It does not ch

        • :) just learned what I have. People never understood how I could sleep +1 hour later everyday. wonder if I can get melatonin lozenges.
          • They have it at WalMart (in the US).

          • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @03:25PM (#39114635)
            Everybody in this thread - The natural 25-26 hour schedule is completely normal for most diurnal mammals. They've done research with humans giving them NO time queues for days, and it turns out EVERYBODY falls into a slightly over 24-hour schedule.

            The conclusion here is that our chemical engines are too imprecise for us to evolve a dead-on circadian cycle. So instead evolution gave us an unaided circadian cycle that's calibrated with a mean of about 25 hours, so that people with a naturally extremely short cycle are still just over 24 hours, and it goes up from there. Then we get a natural reset cue to adjust the cycle every day to keep it in sync with the world. The primary component of the reset signal is sunlight exposure in the morning. If you get up at a reasonable time (near or after sunrise) and GET OUTDOORS for about 15 minutes, then you will feel like going to bed at the right time to get enough sleep and want to get up at about the same time the next day. We and our ancestors spent tens of millions of years with no choice but to receive natural light in the morning, so it was a pretty good system before we evolved to live in our parent's basements and stare at little screens all day.

            I suffer big time from this - every day I want to stay up and get up about an hour or so later than I did the day before - but not if I'm spending much time outdoors, especially in the morning. When I'm backpacking, wholly cow do I just want to go to bed when it gets dark, and get up just after sunrise. If we spent the day exercising outdoors like evolution intended, we wouldn't have this problem... but good luck being able to/wanting to do that all the time. But if you just drag yourself out of bed and take a 15 minute walk outdoors, even if it's cloudy or right around sunrise, problem solved. It does get tricky if you have to be at work before sunrise. Or if you work night shift (which I did for about 2 years) you're just *'ed.

            I think the light exposure causes melanin production on about a 14 hour delay, making us want top go to sleep about 16 hours after exposure. This is why melanin supplements near bedtime are somewhat functional as a surrogate for actual light exposure in the morning.

            Or as an alternate solution, since the day gets longer by about 1.7 milliseconds per century, by my calculations you could just wait about 200 million years for the earth to get in sync with your natural clock.
            • When I'm backpacking, wholly cow do I just want to go to bed when it gets dark, and get up just after sunrise.

              Just watch out for the rascals who sneak up in the middle of the night to tip you over.

            • I think the light exposure causes melanin production on about a 14 hour delay, making us want top go to sleep about 16 hours after exposure. This is why melanin supplements near bedtime are somewhat functional as a surrogate for actual light exposure in the morning.

              Sadly, for some of us, that delay is larger, significantly so. In my case the delay is closer to 20 than 14, meaning my body essentially gets reset incorrectly every day. With careful management of a host of different factors, I can just about fall asleep at 1AM on a good day. If something disrupts that, if I don't get bright light in the morning, don't turn down the lamps, don't turn off the computer monitor, or just plain get kept up for 10 minutes past 1, it's all down hill from there. A single misse

        • by AJH16 ( 940784 )

          If I stay awake until I get tired, I stay awake for 24 hours at a time and then sleep for 12. I just lucked out because I'm able to sleep alright after 16 hours awake, though it does make for brutal mornings. For a few weeks one summer though I went to a 24/12 schedule and it was the best couple weeks ever even if people had trouble getting used to when I was available and when I wasn't. Apparently it is fairly common to have a longer than 24 hour circadian rhythm. I know someone had put together a 6, 2

        • by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

          I had just gone down to Fry's and grabbed 2 long 6 outlet strips, a dozen 'Daylight' (blue tint instead of the 'warm' red tint) compact florescent bulbs, and 2 wall outlet timers. I did have to stop at the hardware store as well to get 10 minimal fixtures (just to turn standard outlets into bulb sockets)

          I spend 15 minutes every morning as I wake up just gazing into the lights...

          Completely changed my life; instead of having problems with insomnia and waking before noon, I now get naturally tired around midni

    • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:47PM (#39113401)

      What are the effects of too much exposure to light?


      • What are the effects of too much exposure to light?


        Nice one.

        On a serious note, another effect of too much exposure to light (depending on the source) is skin cancer.

    • by Venner ( 59051 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:50PM (#39113437)

      Cataracts are one possible effect; clouding of the lens due to exposure to bands of UV light. Certain medication can also contribute to the effects of light on the eye, but the common one that many people use without knowing the potential effect is St. John's Wort.

      I'm profoundly affected by the shortened (and usually sunless) days beginning in the fall, through the awful winter, and into the spring. (I'm self-diagnosing, but I'd say it qualifies as SAD [].) I've used St. John's Wort in the winter months with a reasonable degree of success, but I think adding bright light to my work area helped a lot more. As in, four 300W fluorescent bulbs.

      Much to my chagrin, however, I learned that St. John's Wort and Bright Light don't Mix [].

      Cataracts are (generally) easily treated, thankfully, but that might not be the extent of the possible effect. And I don't particularly want cataracts before I hit 40.

      • Cataract beget LENS REPLACEMENT and that, for me, was wonderful. It was like going from an ancient CRT to a good modern flatscreen. I had various other eye problems which lens replacement partially corrected.

      • As in, four 300W fluorescent bulbs.

        You should try halogen lamps. They have a wider spectrum of light.

        One issue with halogen lamps is that they're more prone to cause fires (if a curtain touches the bulb), so many manufacturers have removed them from consumer offerings for liability reasons, but halogen lamps (or halogena bulbs) are still the de facto standard for galleries and stores that care about having the most attractive displays.

        • by Venner ( 59051 )

          The bulbs I have are 5000K, sitting in the nice "daylight" slot in terms of color temperature, and also have a CRI of 90, which is pretty good for fluorescent. They're probably not full-spectrum, granted, but they suffice.

            Halogens are nice, but as you mentioned, they tend to get really, really hot. My work space (upstairs) has seven-foot ceilings and can get pretty stuff as it is :-)

    • I use a full spectrum monitor

      • I use a full spectrum monitor

        So, you stare at a florescent light bulb all day.

        You must be in management.....

    • You can get tools which adjust the brightness and color based on the time. That can help you fall asleep after getting off the computer. The standard bright LCD does keep you awake. I've found it can make a noticeable difference if you're the sort of person to get stuck up late on the computer without ever feeling tired.

    • >>What are the effects of too much exposure to light? Should I use a screen filter for my monitor?

      You laugh, but it causes insomnia and ASPD (

  • that people should make an effort to expose themselves to bright sunlight or bright indoor lighting when they cannot get outdoors

    In neither case does bright lighting come into the equation. There's a reason geeks are thought of as pasty white,* though at least Sheldon has a set schedule of going outside to get sunlight once a week.

    *Yes, I do realize there are many geeks who get outside for various activities. It's a joke.
    • One of the reasons bodies make LDL cholesterol is to make pregnenolone []. Pregnenolone gets turned into Progesterone or DHEA. Progesterone becomes Cortisol; DHEA becomes Testosterone, which gets turned into estrogen. Wikipedia has a nice flow chart somewhere... Progestogens, I think.

      If the cholesterol -> pregnenolone conversion isn't working very well (because of hypothyroidism, or a lack of required vitamins), the liver pumps out more "base material" [LDL cholesterol] with the hope that more of the needed

  • I wonder, do the blind have the same "health woes" when aging as the sighted?

    • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:26PM (#39113055)
      "Life expectancy of the blind is usually less than half that of someone with eyesight the same age."

      That's according to [] which probably includes lots of accidents which are non-health related deaths. (Wow, there's a concept. He's dead, but a *healthy* sort of dead.)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        (Wow, there's a concept. He's dead, but a *healthy* sort of dead.)

        Below the neck, he's perfectly healthy.
        What about above the neck?
        Perfectly healthy there too.
        So why is he dead?
        My guess is that the two perfectly healthy parts don't work quite as well when they're on different sides of the room.

      • that's because the blind are a gift to Shal-Hulud

    • I wondered that exact same thing myself. At the very least, the authors of the study need to touch on this question. How do their claims stack up when applied to those born blind, or who lose sight at an early age?
      • No, no, they can't investigate the blind, professional welders or farm workers, since the results from multiple data points will likely ruin their business model.
      • Many non-photosensitive congenitally blind people have what is called non-24 hour sleep-wake disorder, where their circadian rhythm is basically free floating. Blind people who are still photosensitive have lower incidence of this disorder, as long as they get some light each day (preferably morning sunlight).

    • by durrr ( 1316311 )
      No, they are entirely preoccupied with dodging traffic. Of course only those that survived the introduction of the silent killer: the hybrid car.
    • The creators of this study aren't worried about the blind.... only aging rich people who are looking for something to worry about to fill their vapid lives.

  • Cataract Surgery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:23PM (#39113023) Journal

    I believe the article mentions that cataract surgery will fix this problem, allowing the full amount of light (in the correct part of the spectrum) back in. (In fact, as a recent slashdot story mentioned, it sometimes allows you to see in the UV!).

    I wonder if people will choose to have cataract surgery done even if they have no cataracts. My mom was recently evaluated for the surgery, evidently it's a (relatively) simple procedure; the patient goes home the same day and only has mild discomfort for a few days.

    Hi Carl!

    • I think the average slashdotter would rather be able to see in the infra-red range [], not the ultra-violet range.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My mom had cataract surgery done and was shocked at how much brighter the world was. While they were at it they fixed her vision so she only really needed reading glasses. She was used to wearing bifocals at all times. This totally screwed her up for about a year. Her vision was one way for 60+ years (well aside from the gradual changes over time) and suddenly was completely different. She actually hated it at the time. The plus side was that her seasonal depression went away. Now that she is used to

    • As the person who has Ultraviolet vision after Cataract Surgery, [] a reminder that many IOL's (Intra-Ocular-Lens) actually do filter UV light - this is also mentioned in TFA. I've read quite a bit of Mainster & Turner's work and while I'm a wanna-be-eye-doctor at best, believe they are "right" in that you should not filter UV with an IOL.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I'm curious about the control groups used for these studies. I only have access to one of the articles the NYT links to, but in that study they compared reaction times before and after cataract surgery. What they didn't do is compare the effects of clear lenses vs blue blocking lenses.

      It seems to me that blue blocking lenses are the appropriate control, and since they are in common use there shouldn't be any problems getting that past the IRB. Actually, if I were on the IRB I wouldn't have let this ex

    • My father was never a reader, as long as I can remember. In his mid 70s he was also a computerphobe.

      One day his wife told me that he finally broke down and had cataract surgery ( I didn't even know he had a problem ).

      He took my advice, got a Mac and took the Mac classes. He learned enough to make his own web site and I can now communicate with him via email and have read links to articles I send to him.

      He even reads books I buy for him now.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I wonder if people will choose to have cataract surgery done even if they have no cataracts.

      Actually, they already do. "Cataract surgery" is an amputation; your eye's lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one. The newest one can even focus, as it sits on struts inside the lens capsule. These will not only cure cataracts, but nearsightedness, farsightedness (even age-related), and astigmatism.

      I wore thick glasses all my life until steroid eye drops gave me a cataract in my left eye. Now I wear no c

    • by smelch ( 1988698 )
      It is a really simple surgery. I've had both done. However, the important thing to realize is that when you get your new lens (at least at the time I got my implants a couple years back), you can't change the focal length without the help of glasses. Long range I see a lot better, but now I need reading glasses. Also, no self respecting ophthalmologist would remove your natural lens for no reason. When I had my cataract surgery in my left eye, three days later my retina tore and detached. Granted, I'm prone
  • Direct sunlight, with its ionizing radiation? Are they crazy?

    The obvious solution is to preserve our delicate photoreceptors by avoiding light as much as possible... at least for the decade or two it takes engineers to invent replacement eyes.

    And if we really need periods of intense light during the day, well, that's why God made enormous LED-lit displays.

  • If you live in Seattle, it doesn't matter how old you are.

  • I've always been careful with both my eyes and ears, ok - they're not the same, but at least for my ears...I'm over 40 and have tested my ears with delicate test-instruments and top-notch headphones, and can still hear well in the 20Khz range, 23 Khz, when I was 20 years old.

    Same for vision, while I do notice in the dark...that the exact center spot of my eye, blocks the weakest of light, I can still see pretty much the way I did as a kid, and I always kept low light conditions, and wasn't much exposed to t

  • But their bad eyes are certainly contributing to my car insurance woes.
  • by John Murdoch ( 102085 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:43PM (#39113321) Homepage Journal

    I had cataract surgery in my left eye (which is the dominant eye) four years ago, at age 49. I had cataract surgery in the right eye 18 months later.

    Simply put--as your eyes cloud over, your brain has to work substantially harder to compensate. Your brain has to decipher blurred vision, compensate for the "halo" effect cataracts give you around bright lights (the reason why older people don't drive at night is the halo effect of oncoming headlights--completely blinding them).

    All of that changes with cataract surgery--you don't just see better. (And you see MUCH better--if you wore corrective lenses beforehand they implant a custom-fit lens that corrects your vision to 20/20 or better.) All of the "clock cycles" that your brain was devoting to countering the effects of cataracts (even things like keeping your balance) are all of a sudden freed up. The change is dramatic--it really is life-transforming.

    My mother-in-law is 90--she had cataract surgery last fall. Last summer, before the surgery, her daughters were wondering about "what are we going to do about Mom"--at the time I suggested that they wait till after the cataract surgery; I was sure it would have a big impact. Boy, did it--my mother-in-law is active, alert, far more capable, and busy with plans for an expanded vegetable garden this summer.

    Until you go through the experience, you can't really understand how much effort your brain puts into interpreting what you see. The impact of cataract surgery is unbelievable.

    • I can corroborate that with my own experience with astigmatism. Without my correction, my brain manages* - but it seems at a cost as I have a lot more general fatigue and not-giving-a-shit.

      * - without correction, I get triple vision but with a low angle - eg each eye has slight double vision, with the false images being a bit weaker, "blurred" (closer to smeared), and offset at different angles and rotation. After a few minutes (about 10 to 15) my "correction" kicks in and I only notice this when only one e

    • by durrr ( 1316311 )
      I'm somewhat near sighted, getting glasses was like upgrading that 8 year old computer. Was a very neat transition. That said, how much did the lens manufacturer pay you for that post?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @01:47PM (#39113395)

    Is there any psychological correlation with this phenomena and the desire to move to the brighter sunnier states - like Arizona and Florida - when one hits 75?

  • What does this theory say about the poor folks who live in places like Seattle and Portland? Are they all doomed to a dismal old age at age 45? This would mean I waited too long to move away. :P

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @02:36PM (#39114077)
    I just hope someone is working on 'floaters' in eyes as well; I have one already before the age of 50 and was told by an opthamologist nothing can be done about them.
    • Argh...I hate floaters... I've had them since I was about 25. Now I'm around 40 and STILL have them, one of them got firmly stuck in the middle (focus center) and was in focus all the time, like a pearl-threaded-snake-necklace or something, vigorously shaking my eyes every day for nearly 2 years, finally "shook" it lose, so it's just floating around like the other floaters now.

      But you can "program" your brain to ignore the floaters, that's what I have done, it works...just sort of tell yourself to completel

    • I know someone who had some surgery - they drained the fluid, fixed stuff, and re-filled the eye. In the process, they filtered out the floaters.

      Maybe it was cataract, I don't remember. But yes, those can be removed. I doubt any doctor would do surgery just for those, of course.

    • by Tim C ( 15259 )
      I always assumed that everyone had them, that they were essentially just dust and assorted other crap floating on the eye, and that they came and went.

      Also, I have just become very aware of mine having read this comment thread, so thanks for that... ;p
  • Most of this should be fairly easily testable with statistical methods. Do people living in low-sunlight environments (eg: perpetually foggy or cloudy areas, or close to the poles during the dark months) show a higher incidence of all the same "aging" problems than their age would imply?
  • Young adults in industrialised countries typically receive only 20–120 min of daily light exposure exceeding 1000 lux.42 87 108 109 Elderly adults’ bright light exposures average only 1/3 to 2/3 that duration.42 110 Institutionalised elderly receive less than 10 min per day of light exposure exceeding 1000 lux,55 111 with median illuminances as low as 54 lux.55

    The article was very interesting. However, how would it stack up against other epidemiological data, such as the fact that depression in

  • Poor summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by Angostura ( 703910 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @02:51PM (#39114255)

    From the original abstract: " A 45-year-old adult retains only half the circadian photoreception of early youth" which the summary translates into: "by age 45, the photoreceptors of the average adult receive just 50 percent of the light needed to fully stimulate the circadian system".


  • For those who use it, you understand.

  • by Jeff1946 ( 944062 ) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @03:38PM (#39114823) Journal

    White leds are actually blue leds with a phosphor to down convert some of the blue to yellow and red. If you look at the spectrum of white leds (go the Cree web site) you will see there is a peak in the blue part of the spectrum, particularly with the "cooler white" versions which should be helpful as a daytime light for folks who have a problem with their circadian rhythms.

  • The gadget lover in me has thought about getting a sunlight lamp for years. I've heard that they can damage eyes or cause cancer. Is this true? If not, can anyone tell what is a reasonable price and or model of one?

    Would melatonin work just as well for circadian rhythm issues?

    • Neither worked for my circadian rhythm issues, but melatonin worked much better than the blue light while it worked. The blue light in the morning didn't alter my clock at all. The melatonin did keep things steady for about 1 lunar cycle though.

  • And here I sit with my windows blocked off because I thought the sunlight was causing fatigue on my eyes, making me tired.

  • John Ott [] was promoting the health benefits of natural light in the 1960s. Nothing new here...
  • I actually believe this study (please see my post above about cataract surgery) but I was just thinking.

    If this were true, wouldn't older people's eyes be more dilated? Because they're trying to get as much light as possible? Has anyone noticed this?

    Of course maybe the mechanism that controls eye dilation senses a different frequency of light than what controls circadian rhythms. This might be an interesting topic to pursue further in a study!

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.