Cataracts In Elderly
What is a cataract? A cataract is a cloudy or opaque area in the normally
sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. Early lens changes or opacities may not disturb
vision. But as the lens continues to change, several specific symptoms including blurred
vision; sensitivity to light and glare; increased nearsightedness; or distorted images in
older, the lens becomes less flexible and loses some of its ability to focus light onto the
become milky white and fill the lens. The patient is then considered blind. Doctors do not
know how to prevent or cure most types of cataracts. But surgery to remove the diseased
lens can improve vision for most cataract patients. After such surgery, some patients.
After such surgery, some patients must wear strong glasses or contact lenses to see well
diseased lens with a plastic intraocular lens. A patient who receives an intraocular lens
may or may not need glasses or contact lenses to see well.
Physiology Of A Normal System
portion of the eye, and the pupil, the dark center of the eye. Tiny ligaments, called
zonules, support the lens capsule within the eye (American Academy of Ophthalmology,
10). The lens has three parts, the capsule, the nucleus, and the cortex. The outer
membrane, or capsule, surrounds the cortex which in turn surrounds the center or nucleus
of the lens. If you imagine the lens as a piece of fruit, the capsule is the skin, the cortex is
the fleshy fruit, and the nucleus is the pit (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 10).
could mean clearer vision (Wilson, 1996, 28). When scientist studied the eyes of 17, 764
men for five years, they saw that the guys who were the heaviest were nearly twice as
likely to get cataracts as were the lightest guys (Archives of Opthalmology, September,
1995). So considering that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world,
cutting risks in half is a big deal (Wilson, 1996). For now, it’s a smart thing to eat a diet
The lens of the eye is usually transparent, so the light can pass through it.
Biochemical changes may occur within the lens, or trauma may cause fiber changes that
cause the lens to become cloudy and finally opaque, thus blocking the light rays from
reaching the retina (Long, 1993, 1313). A mature cataract is one that separates easily
from the lens capsule. It used to be thought that a cataract had to be mature before it
persons activities of daily living. Cataracts may develop in both eyes, such as with senile
cataracts, but usually they do not develop at the same time (Long, 1993, 1313).
Interview and Case Study
cataract surgery on her left eye in 1987. She said “the right one had a small cataract on it
and has not gotten any worse so I get a general check up on it once a year. My vision has
improved to were I can read everything but fine print without my glasses.”
She has a pair of reading glasses to read the fine print, but says “I have really good sight
surgery and they gave her drops to put in that night. She stayed in a motel in Garden City
and went in the next day for surgery. She went for a postoperative check-up with her
surgeon, Dr. Fry, one day following surgery. She cheerfully said, “now I am one in six
hundred members of “The Cataract Club,” which has a convention for follow-up
information for us once a year in Garden City, Kansas.”
There are many different types of treatment for cataracts, but some have proven to
be more affective than others. As you grow older, you need more light, whether you have
vision problems or not (Larson, 1996). Different types of eyeglasses such as bifocals or
trifocals that are stronger than normal may better help an elderly person to see in the early
stages of cataracts. There are also many magnifiers that come in many different styles
these can be hand-held, freestanding, mounted on a headband, or worn around the neck.
extra large letters or numbers, and large size game boards are available from mail order
catalogs and stores throughout the United States (Larson, 1996).
Cataract surgery is really considered to be the best of all treatments. Before a
patient can have this surgery their eye physician and surgeon should have concurrently
agreed that this is medically possible for that particular patient. The patients eye will be
measured to determine the proper power of the intraocular lens that will be placed in their
eye during surgery (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 5). The day of surgery the
patient is brought in on an outpatient basis. They are then given eye drops, and
medication to help them relax. A local anesthetic makes the operation painless. Though
they may see light and movement, they will not be able to see the surgery while it is
happening, and will not have to worry about keeping their eye open or closed (American
Academy of Ophthalmology, 5). After the operation the surgeon places a guard over the
eye. After a short time in the recovery room the patient is ready to go home.
“Cataract surgery is probably the best rehabilitative operation n all of medicine,”
says Dr. Zarbin (Miller, 1996, 51)
After cataract surgery, a patients vision might gradually decrease because of a thin
membrane (the posterior lens capsule) within the eye becoming clouded (Larson, 556).
The posterior lens capsule is left in the eye during most cataract surgeries because it
supports the implanted lens and is safer for the eye. If the capsule is causing clouding of
so people should stay in close contact with their ophthalmologist (Larson, 556).
Cataract surgery is usually done in less than an hour under local anesthesia. In the
first form of lens extraction call extracapsular cataract extraction, the surgeon would make
an incision where the cornea and sclera meet. Then he would carefully enter through that
incision and open the front of the capsule and remove the nucleus of the lens (American
Academy of Ophthalmology, 3). Finally he would enter with a microscopic instrument
and suction out the soft lens cortex, leaving the capsule in place. Now with the newest
form of lens extraction, called phacoemulsification, ultrasound vibrations break apart the
cataract. The surgeon then suctions out the small pieces through an incision less than
posterior capsule turns cloudy several months or years following the operation. If this
causes a persons vision to blur, the surgeon can make a painless, clear opening in the
center of the membrane with a laser (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 6). Laser
surgery is never part of the original cataract operation (American Academy of
The final wonder that cross each cataract patients mind is, will cataract surgery
improve my vision? Over 95% of cataract surgeries improve vision, but a small number
of patients may have problems. Symptoms including infection, bleeding and swelling or
detachment of the retina are some of the more serious complications that may affect their
vision (American Academy of Ophthalmology, 6). These patients should call their
physician if they have any of the following abnormal symptoms: pain not relieved be
medication, loss of vision, nausea, vomiting, excessive coughing, or injury to the eye.
Subjective and objective data must include the following: Acquired cataracts,
either from aging or disease, usually develop gradually (Long, 1993, 1313). The main
symptom is gradual loss of vision; the extent of the loss depends on were the cataract is
located and the opacity of the cataract. People with an opacity in the center of the lens
can see better in dim light, when the pupil is dilated. The people with presbyopia can
possibly read without glasses in the early stages because of myopia. People who wear
glasses may continually think that they are dirty and clean them a lot because they can’t see
as good as usual, this is a common complaint which cause the elderly to seek medical
advise. If cataracts result from trauma, then blurring may be immediate (Long, 1993.)
cosmetics, inappropriate dress in light of safety and comfort, reluctance or refusal to wear
corrective lenses, and unwillingness to acknowledge physical changes associated with
aging. The pt will develop a client-managed plan of care to address the need of the altered
alteration and its significance.
2. Ineffective individual coping related to inability to solve problems or adapt to
demands of daily living as manifested by disheveled appearance, frequent accidents,
understanding of the events that trigger ineffective coping. The nurse will identify support
systems and how these systems are perceived to function. The support from others can
increase the client’s ability to cope.
3. Anticipatory grieving related to perceived potential loss of eye as manifested by
denial of significance of potential loss, difficulty taking on new or different roles,
emotions of grief. The nurse will teach personal coping skills to the pt. The level of
individual coping may be predictive of ability to face and do grief work.
4. Health maintenance alteration related to perceptual or cognitive impairment as
manifested by impaired perceptual or cognitive functioning, impaired short or long term
memory, inability to concentrate or follow instructions, lack of adaptive behaviors to
internal or external environmental changes, and lack of interest in health maintenance. The
pt. will make responsible decisions and follow through to maintain or enhance health. The
nurse will identify the pts. ability to learn health related skills and information. Serves as a
basis for determining teaching approach and content.
5. Risk for injury related to lack of awareness of environmental hazards. The pt
will willingly use safety precautions when at risk for injury. The nurse will identify with
pt. and family internal and external factors that place client at risk for injury. By
eliminating these factors the pt. can remain free of injuries
6. Visual sensory or perceptual alteration related to altered sensory reception,
transmission, or integration as manifested by altered conceptualization, anger, anxiety,
impaired visual ability. The pt. will learn ways to compensate for sensory impairments.
The nurse will verbally explain all things to the pt with visual deficits. This will assist the
client to be more in control of his environment.
What is a cataract? Through these various studies one may have learnt many new
things about cataracts; how they affect the normal eye, a personal experience of cataract
surgery, the various treatments, and most of all how nurses can be a part of this diagnosis
and prevention process. Knowing this information hopefully will help other elderly people
understand the signs and symptoms to look for cataracts and ways that cataracts can be
prevented. About half of Americans between ages 65 and 74, 70% of those older than age
75, have cataracts (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, 1995, 3).
American Academy of Ophthalmolgy. (1996-1997). Eyenet. Eye Conditions &
Diseases. 1-11, http://www.eyenet.org/public/faqs/cataract/cat_prevention.html.
Long B., Phipps W., Cassmeyer V. (1993). Medical Surgical Nursing, 3rd Ed.
Mayo Clinic Health Letter. (Oct. 1995). Vision and Your Eyes. 1-8.
Miller, M. (July 1996). Your Aging Eyes. Better Homes and Gardens. 46, 48,
Wilson, K. (March 1996). Weight and See. Prevention. 26, 28, 30.