I’ve been in denial about my fading eyesight for at least a decade. It started with realising that I couldn’t actually read newspaper print anymore in dim light. Then I began to get headaches and realised that hours spent editing copy in front of a screen was probably the culprit. So I got reading glasses. But now it’s at another level. I can’t read messages on my phone if they are in normal sized print. It’s getting tricky to read books in the bath (waaah) and I went to a crucial hospital appointment on the wrong day recently because I read a six as a nine (sorry over-stressed NHS). My children are sick of me asking them to read packets to find out what temperature the oven should be. And don’t even get me going on restaurant menus. A combination of darkness and coloured fonts (coupled with being too proud to get the waiter to read it to me, or taking my glasses out out..) means I’ve ended up ordering some pretty weird food.
The time had definitely come for a proper eye test. And the result? Well I’ve got one super lazy eye which is pretty rubbish at seeing much and one good one which is going bonkers trying to compensate. The nice chap at Vision Express (his name card said Yusuf but he is actually called Mohammed, because, as he explained, there were five other Mohammeds in the store so they all use their middle names to avoid confusion) said it was time for me to have permanent specs.
I was faced with a few options. Contact lenses… too fiddly and I don’t like putting things in my eyes. Two different kinds of specs (one pair for short distances, another for driving etc). Or Vari-Focals. Described to me as magic, two pairs of specs in one – and they even go dark in the sun so I wouldn’t need sunglasses either. That sounded just the ticket, so Mohammed Yusuf sent me off to his optometrists for a whole barrage of eye tests.
The optician explained that after the age of 40, everyone will experience some degree of presbyopia – age-related long-sightedness, where the lens becomes less elastic and flexible, making it difficult to shift focus quickly between nearby and distant objects. This tends present at first as difficulties reading fine print or books unless held at arm’s length and often results in eye strain when reading for long periods (probably why I got jiggy eye and headaches after spending hours looking at the screen). I then got to the bottom of why I couldn’t read any messages on my phone; presbyopia also makes nearby objects appear fuzzy and vision may become temporarily blurred when changing the length of the viewing distance.
It turns out menopause also causes sight issues. Not just eyesight waning, but dry and irritable eyes too. (Oh yes, I also have sore red eyes). Dr Nighat Arif our doctor at Noon told me that during menopause the androgen hormone decreases, affecting the meibomian and lacrimal glands, respectively responsible for the oily and salt-watery fluid that covers the eyes. When these glands are affected, the eyelids can become inflamed, reducing tear production and tear quality – consequently leading to dry eyes. I knew that menopause has around forty associated symptoms, not just the hot flushes and brain fog everyone likes to go on about – but hadn’t made the connection with the change and my waning eyesight. The hormone fluctuations and the decline in oestrogen means it is important to get your eyes checked regularly once you hit 45. This doesn’t mean going to the doctor. Any opticians these days has the kit. The downstairs of Oxford Street East’s Vision Express is a veritable super lab of eye kit. As they shone lights into the back of my eyes, puffed air on them and generally put me through my vision paces they told me the machines not only test your prescription but can also pick up early signs of diseases such as agerelated macular degeneration, eye ulcers and even some cancers.
An eye test should become an annual event, but less than a third of women in their 40s have had one in the past six months. I’m not surprised. Research we carried out on Noon (noon.org.uk ) for women in midlife with Vision Express revealed that I am not the only Queenager reluctant to face up to my waning sight. Over half of women over 45 say that losing their eyesight is the largest negative impact of the menopausal years and 73 per cent say it makes them feel old.
But the truth is this is a fixable problem. Once I’d faced up to the fact that I needed proper glasses it’s all been plain sailing. I got the right prescription, chose my frames – very natty Chloe ones, which look very like the ones that Carrie Bradshaw wears in the reboot of Sex and the City. And even better in my busy life, getting vari-focals means I only have one pair of glasses – so I don’t look like a mad old lady with a million pairs of specs draped around my body.
I admit that starting off with varifocals was a bit of a challenge; when you look down you can read, when you see straight ahead you’re looking through your distance prescription. To begin with I felt a bit like I was on a roundabout. My husband kept teasing me about walking into kerbs or falling over (neither of which has happened). The optician advised me to wear them to watch TV or while I was working to begin with, because it is good to get used to them where your head stays in the same position. That really helped.
They are now invaluable. Indeed the joy of reading with them while sunbathing was intense. Until I got the varifocals I’ve had to use my reading glasses with my sunglasses over the top to read in the sunshine. Hardly very glamorous. Or practical. Last week by the pool in Marrakesh, my swanky vari-focals not only allowed me to read small print with ease but they turned elegantly emerald green while I was at it, removing the sun’s glare and looking super chic. Similarly going through the airport I could look up and see the flight time on the board on the other side of the hall and look down and read my boarding pass without swapping specs. JOY!
I’m not the only Queenager who loves her vari-focals. BBC icon and DJ Jo Whiley was rhapsodising to me the other day about how she can now look down at the record she is putting on the decks and look up and see the entire crowd of grooving midlife ladies who attend her Anthems tour. There’s life in us Queenagers yet – and it’s made so much easier by wearing the right glasses!
I had some very beautiful Chloe sunglasses which I bought myself as a treat a couple of years ago (I got a voucher for having done 20 years with my former employer). I spent the whole lot on the designer sunnies. But then they got stolen by some naughty puppies while I was on holiday and irreparably chewed. I loved them so much I wore them even though they were cloudy with scratches. One of the best things about the new vari-focals is that they are the same design as my groovy sunglasses, they turn into sunglasses and mean I can see everything all the time. Yes dear reader, I am a convert!
I’ve also learnt that as we hit midlife we should take care of our eyes just like we do the rest of our bodies. Did you know nutrition really helps our vision? Eating fruit, vegetables, fish, wholegrains, omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding artificial sweeteners isn’t just good for your body but your eyes too.
I called my platform for women Noon because in the 100-year-life (which is statistically where many women of our generation are headed) 50 is only half way through. That means we’ve got the afternoon and evening of our lives left. I reckon that is worth making a bit of an investment in – because, yes, vari-focals are not the cheapest. But we’re worth it, right? Too many of us women at this point feel bad about ageing, in our youth-obsessed culture, we’ve internalised too many messages about our value being tied up with being young, fanciable and fecund. Everything I am doing at Noon is about putting a new lens on midlife and the later stages of women’s lives. It’s all about seeing ourselves differently, realising we are not past it and invisible, but coming into our prime – and encouraging the rest of the world to see us in that way too. There are so many amazing women starting businesses at fifty, going back to the dreams they had when they were younger, becoming the women they were always supposed to be.
So start with yourself and see the world with new eyes. It really helps with starting that new chapter!
By Eleanor Mills
Eleanor Mills is the founder and editor-in-chief of Noon, a platform for women in midlife.
Queenagers – a new way of looking at midlife!
Why is it that men in our society are seen to get better with age, like fine wine – while women are seen more like peaches; one wrinkle and we’re done? Noon has paired up with Vision Express and Jo Whiley to challenge this stereotype, and to change the way that the world sees older women.Read
More on HealthView All
‘My Boobs Got in the Way of My Golf Swing’
Genelle Aldred writes about the joys of getting into a new hobby, even allowing it to become a bit of an obsession and the hurdles that could have stopped her in her tracks.
‘Menopause happens to half the population, so why do I feel so at sea?’
What are perimenopause and menopause really like for women, and how can we make them better?