The old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” became obsolete with the Baby Boomer generation. In a population that has experienced the shift from typewriters to computers, landlines to cell phones, and anything from phones, cameras, computers and assistants to all-encompassing mobile devices, advancements and major lifestyle changes are commonplace.

This same willingness to learn and change for the purpose of better overall functioning can also be applied to their eye health. As Boomers begin to experience age-related issues with their eyes and vision, eyecare professionals must keep in mind that UV and blue light—particularly the harmful wavelengths emitted from digital devices—should be in their lexicon for treating more than Millennials and Generation Z.

In fact, Boomers are no less vulnerable to the effects of blue light than younger generations. These effects can include digital eye strain, accelerated age-related macular degeneration and disrupted sleep.

As stated in The Vision Council’s 2016 report on digital eye strain, “Eyes Overexposed: the Digital Device Dilemma,” adults in their 50s are the “original early adopters of technology.” Having mastered computers in the 1990s, the report said, most rely on computers and laptops as their core digital devices. Some more noteworthy conclusions about this age group included:

50 to 59-Year-Olds

More than 30 percent have had prolonged use of digital devices (two or more hours per day) for more than 15 years.
86 percent are currently spending two or more hours on digital devices each day.
55 percent spend more than five hours on digital devices each day.
64 percent report symptoms of digital eye strain.

Similar findings were reported among those aged 60 and older. According to the report:

60 and Older
54 percent experience symptoms of digital eye strain.
37 percent spend five or more hours on digital devices daily.
Desktop and laptop computers are frequently used for daily activities, such as getting directions (55 percent), finding a recipe (61 percent), doing research (84 percent), checking social media (59 percent) or playing games (21 percent).

Both age groups, together making up the Baby Boomers, are eager to adopt technology to support healthier lifestyles, and eyecare is no exception. Indeed, many optometrists are finding that once older patients are educated about the potentially harmful effects of blue light and UV, most are willing to make changes to their lifestyle—and their eyewear—to prevent future damage or discomfort from occurring.

In this second installment of our three-part series on Boomer vision health, VM spoke to optometrists who specialize in blue light management to learn more about how they are helping Boomers see the light—by protecting themselves from harmful UV and blue light.

Eric White, OD.
Boomers and Digital Devices
One of the main goals optometrists are trying to achieve with patients in the Baby Boomer cohort is preserving the health of the retina, particularly the macula, said Eric White, OD. At his practice, Complete Family Vision Care in San Diego, Calif., Dr. White makes it a priority to educate patients about high-energy blue light coming from their digital devices and the sun.

“Baby Boomers need blue light protection for the computer and to prevent overexposure to blue light from the sun,” said Dr. White, who is a Boomer himself, and reports spending several hours a day on his computer, smartphone and other digital devices. “We are all on computers now more than ever.”

At Complete Family Vision Care, Dr. White and his staff wear glasses with blue-violet light protection so they may personally experience the benefits, and samples of lenses are kept on hand so patients can see any potential colors or tints. In turn, practice staff are better equipped to explain the benefits of blue light protection to patients, having experienced it themselves, and patients are prepared for lenses with yellow or orange tints.

“Blue light protected lenses absorb the blue light, which in turn relaxes our eyes and helps our REM sleep,” said Dr. White. “For sun exposure, blue light can damage our eyes, increasing the risk of AMD—this is where blue light protected lenses tremendously help all of us, especially post-cataract patients.”

Michael Lange, OD.
Think Outside the Botox
Another angle ECPs might approach Boomers’ protection from blue light and UV is the anti-aging benefits that can accompany blue light protective lenses. Michael Lange, OD, CNS, an optometrist and certified nutrition specialist who operates several vision care practices in Florida, has long been a proponent of blue light filtering lenses and their many benefits. In his experience, Baby Boomers are willing to invest their expendable income in slowing down the aging process in any way possible, including in their eyes.

“A lens that filters blue light is truly an anti-aging lens,” Dr. Lange said. “Baby Boomers are in the age group that has some disposable income. These are the people that can spend a little more money. They’re thinking about anti-aging, grasping at anything and everything that can slow down aging.”

Dr. Lange believes that blue light filtering lenses are not only useful for preventing and slowing eye disease, but linked to better sleep, reducing anxiety and even lowering cancer rates. (Exposure to blue light in the 459 to 484 nm range can suppress melatonin and cause sleeplessness.) At his practice, he emphasizes giving better optics and other health benefits.

“If you’re not sleeping well, you’re releasing more cortisol [a stress hormone], which increases anxiety, which increases belly fat,” said Dr. Lange. “Working on the computer all day means you’re more sedentary and not exercising. With a blue light filtering lens you’re sleeping at night, and anxiety, inflammation and belly fat goes down. As an added bonus, it reduces a significant amount of eye strain, and potentially decreases blue light accelerated retinal damage. To do all that, all you need is this lens.”

For Dr. Lange, the best way to educate patients and potentially prescribe them blue light filtering lenses is by showing them how the lens performs compared with the lens they are currently wearing.

“You’ve got to show the demonstration,” said Dr. Lange, who shines a blue laser through each lens, showing the patient how the light passes right through the ordinary pair of glasses, but cannot penetrate the blue light filterer. “Then, I go through the whole spiel,” which begins with basic questions about the patient’s sleeping patterns, and concludes with appealing to their anti-aging desires.

“I would say in the 40-plus age group, I have close to a 75 percent success rate prescribing the blue filtering lens now. It’s higher than our anti-glare lens. We really have a passion for discussing it.”

Karen Allen, OD.
Should a patient’s vision plan not cover the specialty lens, Dr. Lange offers 25 percent off the cost to encourage the treatment plan. Other ways he reaches Boomers is through his own radio show, which he has hosted since 1993, and through other marketing and educational programs. For those without these resources, he recommends traditional techniques to reach Boomers, such as direct mail pieces, in-house point of sale materials, posters and brochures.

Above all, he said, the best way to encourage Boomers to appreciate and take action toward blue light protection is for the doctor and optician or salesperson to be on board together to educate patients. “In-office is the best way to capitalize on your current patients,” Dr. Lange said.

Dr. Lange also owns a company called Fortifeye Vitamins, which makes neutraceuticals that he recommends to Boomers who are interested in boosting their eye health and overall health. Specifically, he said, the Fortifeye Focus vitamin assists him in a “double whammy approach” to keeping aging eyes healthy and preventing age related eye conditions from developing or progressing.

According to Dr. Lange, the supplement’s combination of lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin—a nutrient that, in addition to giving wild Alaskan salmon its orange color, is one of the only nutrients that can cross the blood-retinal barrier—lowers inflammation in the macula and helps slow down oxidative stress in the body. “It turns back the clock 15 years. I’m 54 years old and don’t need reading glasses,” he said.

Dora Adamopoulos, OD.
Prescribing for Comfort
Not all eyecare practitioners are as enthusiastic about prescribing blue light lenses to prevent potential dangers, however. Indeed, some ODs and ECPs are skeptical of some of the claims that suppliers of blue light blocking/filtering lenses are making. Karen Allen, OD, owner of Premier Vision of Dallas, does not fully support selling patients on blue light’s potential retinal harm.

“Baby Boomers have done most of the damage to their eyes already, so having a blue blocker on an anti-glare lens is not going to prevent them from having macular degeneration,” said Dr. Allen, who specializes in glaucoma and other eye diseases. “There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of blue light and the lenses and tints available, but the science is not necessarily there to back up the claims of the anti-glare companies. No research has said that blue light definitely makes a big difference in the health of the eye.”

However, Dr. Allen does see the more immediate benefits of blue blocking lenses, and uses her personal experience to approach the subject with patients who are interested in the technology. “I have the blue blocking anti-glare on all of my glasses because it makes me feel more comfortable while using a computer with a white, bright screen. It really helps me, and I’ve had patients who have really had success with them. I’m not necessarily backing up the claims of the anti-glare companies, but I really think there is a difference in comfort and clarity.”

Ask and They Shall Receive
Overall, ECPs emphasize the importance of talking to Baby Boomers about the changes they are experiencing in their eyes, and taking a step-by-step approach to finding the correct treatment for blue light and sun protection.

Dora Adamopoulos, OD, clinical director at Eye2Eye Optometry Corner, a two-location practice in Alexandria, Va., sees blue light and UV exposure as separate issues, but takes a similar approach to both: starting with a conversation. From the beginning, she recommends asking Boomers about their lifestyle, daily activities and any eyewear they are currently wearing.

“As they’re getting older, Baby Boomers need to be aware of cumulative UV and short term UV, and their long-term effects,” said Dr. Adamopoulos, referring to a few of the damages UV light can cause over a lifetime, such as cataract, accelerated macular degeneration and skin cancer on the eyelid. The best way to do this, she said, is to educate aging adults about the preventative measures they can take to keep their eyes healthy, including changes in nutrition and updates to their eyewear. In most cases, her suggestions are enthusiastically received.

“Baby Boomers always ask about how they can be proactive,” said Dr. Adamopoulos, who recommends sunwear, green leafy vegetables and vitamins to Boomers concerned with their eyes’ exposure to the sun. “We have dry eye vitamins, macular degeneration vitamins, and vitamins that contain luteins and omega-3,” said Dr. Adamopoulos, who prescribes different vitamins depending on patients’ specific needs and behaviors.

When it comes to tackling the subject of blue light with Boomers, Dr. Adamopoulos recommends being proactive about asking how patients are using their eyes during the day, and whether or how much they are using digital devices. Questions she and her staff regularly ask their Boomer patients are whether they wear glasses, when they wear them and whether they have a different pair to wear at the computer.

“You have an age group that you don’t think are using devices, but they are,” said Dr. Adamopoulos. “It’s an area in which we’re not being proactive enough as a profession. It’s all about opening up a conversation about how they use their eyes,” she said.