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Healthy Aging

When the Print Is Too Small

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/05/2011
Last Updated: 08/13/2012

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I think I need a larger handbag. Lately, when we go out to a restaurant, my husband not only asks me to hold his wallet and tissues but his reading glasses. But then what happens next is a strange phenomenon. When we get to the restaurant and it's time to read the menu, like Pinocchio's nose, his arm starts to grow longer. 

"Do you want your reading glasses?" 

"Nah, it's OK." 

"But you're holding the menu so far away. Why don't you use them?"

"Oh, I can see. It's just a little dark in here." 

Call it denial, but the man needs to face the fact that like everyone else, as we age, our eyes age along with us. The lens of the eye becomes harder and less elastic. Gradually, we are unable to see and focus on objects close up. The result? A "condition" called presbyopia.

By no means is it something to be ashamed of. If you start hanging around with other people in their 40s, 50s and up, I can guarantee that very few will be without their handy helpers. And if they are, they're probably missing a lot or asking someone else to read the menu to them.

I started wearing glasses in my 20s when, in college classes, the blackboard became more and more difficult to see. And moving up to the front row no longer would suffice. I could still read close up without glasses, but I needed them for distance. Gradually I switched to lenses. Fast forward to my mid-40s, when during a visit to my eye doctor, I complained of having trouble reading. He told me what I already knew but was reluctant to admit: it was time for reading glasses. 

My local drugstore held the answer. For about 10 bucks, I could get by. I stocked up on these nonprescription over-the-counter reading glasses with a low number (I think I started at 1.0. I'm up to 2.0 now), but not before I asked all my reading-glasses friends for advice. It's really quite easy to figure out, but in case you're stumped, here are some tips for picking out your first readers:

  • Try different powers (the least powerful are labeled +1.00, with increasing increments up to the highest, which is +4.00). This number corresponds to the degree of magnification, or power.
  • Pick up an aspirin bottle (or any other over-the-counter medication—most labels have teeny-tiny print) and try out the glasses.
  • Hold the reading material about 14 to 16 inches in front of your face.

Things get a bit more complicated if you already wear glasses to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism or if the drugstore versions are not strong enough. Then it might be time for plan B:

Prescription reading glasses. If you need something stronger than +4.00 power, you can wear these for reading only, if you have no other vision problems.

Bifocals. These correct your vision two ways: a visible horizontal line (or ones without a line, called progressive bifocals), separates your distance vision which is at eye level, from your reading correction, which is on the bottom.

Trifocals. Yes, eventually it might get to this. I'm there now, but fortunately I had no problem adjusting to the three corrections the lenses hold: one for close work, one for middle distance (perfect for working on my computer) and one for distance. The lenses I chose have no visible lines, which is a nice way of hiding the fact that my eyes have gotten to this point.

And although I do wear lenses when I am not wearing my glasses, I still need (reading) glasses, since my lenses only correct my far vision. But there are ways to avoid the need for glasses with s with monovision lenses. One eye (your dominant eye, or the one you usually use when you're aiming a camera to take a photo) wears a lens for distance, while the nondominant eye wears one for close-up vision. Personally, I tried this and it made me feel as if I was on a rocking ship, but I know lots of people who love the way it works.

There you have it. Another thing I am trying to cope with, besides needing a larger handbag, is the fact that sometimes I think people I know are snubbing me when they look right at me and don't say hello.

But before I get paranoid or insulted, I have to stop and remind myself about something. It's likely that they, like my husband, are not wearing their glasses either.

And compliments of Harvard Medical School, here are some of the most common eye myths and misconceptions:

5 common eye myths dispelled 

1. Myth: Doing eye exercises will delay the need for glasses.

Fact: Eye exercises will not improve or preserve vision or reduce the need for glasses. Your vision depends on many factors, including the shape of your eye and the health of the eye tissues, none of which can be significantly altered with eye exercises. 

2. Myth: Reading in dim light will worsen your vision.

Fact: Although dim lighting will not adversely affect your eyesight, it will tire your eyes more quickly. The best way to position a reading light is to have it shine directly onto the page, not over your shoulder. A desk lamp with an opaque shade pointing directly at the reading material is the best possible arrangement. A light that shines over your shoulder will cause a glare, making it more difficult to see the reading material. 

3. Myth: Eating carrots is good for the eyes.

Fact: There is some truth in this one. Carrots, which contain vitamin A, are one of several vegetables that are good for the eyes. But fresh fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, which contain more antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, are even better. Antioxidant vitamins may help protect the eyes against cataract and age-related macular degeneration. But eating any vegetables or supplements containing these vitamins or substances will not prevent or correct basic vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. 

4. Myth: It's best not to wear glasses all the time. Taking a break from glasses or lenses allows your eyes to rest.

Fact: If you need glasses for distance or reading, use them. Attempting to read without reading glasses will simply strain and tire your eyes. Using your glasses won't worsen your vision or lead to any eye disease.

5. Myth: Staring at a computer screen all day is bad for the eyes.

Fact: Although using a computer will not harm your eyes, staring at a computer screen all day will contribute to eyestrain or tired eyes. Adjust lighting so that it does not create a glare or harsh reflection on the screen. Also, when you're working on a computer or doing other close work such as reading or needlepoint, it's a good idea to rest your eyes briefly every hour or so to lessen eye fatigue. Finally, people who stare at a computer screen for long periods tend not to blink as often as usual, which can cause the eyes to feel dry and uncomfortable. Make a conscious effort to blink regularly so that the eyes stay well lubricated and do not dry out. 

Other suggested reading: All About Computer Vision Syndrome: .


Yikes I wonder what's in my future then. I already have a crazy prescription that includes an astigmatism I'm sure I'll need a whole handbag full of reading glasses, tri-focals and the like. Any research on whether those who've had lasik fare better?

That's a good question, Kristen. Will have to look into it. I do know that even though you have lasik, there is a possibility you will still need reading glasses later on.

I have a pair of drugstore reading glasses which I use to read the print on bottle and sometimes for small print in manuscripts. I wear s for nearsightedness also. I cannot imagine wearing one lens for one thing and the other for something else. It would make me crazy! Thanks for the tips!

My husband used to buy non-prescription glasses, but I have finally gotten him to agree to what I call "REAL" glasses, that do not hurt your eyes. Because I cannot believe that type of glasses are good for you. Now my problem is remembering to clean my glasses. I have bifocals and had something special put in the lenses to deal with the computer screen issue.

It all becomes so complicated, doesn't it? I'm constantly cleaning my glasses because I get so distracted by any little smudge. I found these little individual packets of eyeglass wipes that come in very handy.

Before LASIK, I would have been considered legally blind without my s (fortunately, it was correctable so I wasn't). Now, a few years post-LASIK, my vision is getting a little blurrier again, as they warned me might happen. Right after I got LASIK, Tina Fey and her glasses became popular, so I almost wished I could pull off that look without being a poser and wearing fake glasses. Soon they may not be fake, but unlike when I was in junior high, I won't to be too self-conscious to wear glasses.

That's ironic, isn't it? Glasses are definitely NOT what they used to be in junior high school, that's for sure. Now they are a FASHION STATEMENT.

I'm in denial about this! I think I've started squinting to read the fine print...

So many people are in denial. But why? It's much more comfortable, in my opinion, to put the glasses on and actually be able to stop squinting. I'm trying to get this across to my hubby...but so far, no luck...

Having worn prescriptive lenses since I was in first grade, I know there's no hope for me - even LASIK doesn't seem worth it since I'll still need reading glasses eventually.

I know this subject well. My eyesight was perfect (and I was so proud of it) until I needed reading glasses in my early 40's. On a recent visit to the eye doctor, I complained about blurry vision when looking up from reading the screen on my smart phone. As the doctor explained to me, with age, our eye muscles begin to wear out. I took his advice and upped (way upped) the strength of my over-the-counter readers, which has helped. He also advocates taking short breaks when using the computer for long periods of time. My chiropractor encourages the same computer breaks but for different reasons. The lesson? Get up from that computer, stretch, move, close your eyes until your entire body is rested.

Yes, the computer can play havoc with our eyes AND our posture. Thanks for the reminder to get up every so often - it's sometimes hard to remember when we get so caught up!

I've worn glasses since age 6. My close-up vision was always my ace in the hole. Far away? Blurry ... really blurry ... like end up in a special school on Little House on the Prairie blurry ...

But, close up, especially w/o my glasses or s, I could see really well.

Alas, that's starting to change. I notice it most when I do my nails. I can feel my eyes not adjusting to that distance well.

But, so far (knock on wood), I can still read OK.

Yup, that sounds like the aging thing, Roxanne...

And you forgot to mention...you can look cool in glasses..and oh, so smart..Lets look on the bright side of aging!

Actually, that IS true. I find it fun to buy all sorts of colorful and different reading glasses. Makes it a little more palatable to wear...

This is hitting home for me. I started having some pretty massive problems seeing my computer screen or books this week. Yikes! I'm calling the eye doctor this morning. Can't work when I can't see!

So sorry to hear this. I hope you were able to get to see your eye doctor and get to the bottom of your problems!

I love my multifocal lenses...they are the most wonderful, amazing thing and mean I virtually do not need reading glasses (because with the multi-fo lenses they are already in my eye!). Once in a while, if something is very very very teensy or the light is very poor, I will don reading glasses (lowest power) - and a Lupe is nice, too (haha!).

That is something I am convinced now that I must look into for myself. Thanks for writing about this, Merr.

I had LASIK for nearsightedness 10 years ago and IT WAS A MIRACLE! That said, I now need 1.0 reading glasses in some instances (dim light mostly), but that's okay.

The trade-off sounds like it is well worth it!

I remember when eye exercises were all the rage. Interesting how things die out when they don't actually help people. I'm finding that I can't see much in dim light these days. Aging depresses me sometimes.

I'm on the opposite side of the fence from No Pot. Bi or tri-focals would make me crazy--I tried them and felt trapped in a little box--having to tilt my head to get "free". So I have the distance glasses for TV, movies, driving; reading glasses tethered around my neck for most everything else; computer (mid-range) glasses on my computer desk to work with.

One optometrist warned against wearing readers a lot because they are not well made and can distort your vision and tire you eyes. (Maybe the made in China syndrome?)And you still need eye check ups every year or two,because the eyes continue to change and because other diseases can cause vision problems, like diabetes for instance.

I've always had glasses since I was a wee one, but it's been really interesting how my eyes changed after 40. Now I take my glasses off to read, which still seems weird to me. Thanks for this post - I do love my carrots and fresh veggies.


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