the business of contact lenses
Contact Lens Options for Senior Citizens
BY GARY GERBER, OD
You already know your patient population is aging. And if you look at contact lens patient demographics, you'll notice the increasing trend of patients dropping out of lens wear as they age. Compromised vision in currently available presbyopic options is one reason, along with increases in dryness and other pathology.
Another reason not often discussed is that elderly patients frequently have to deal with multiple prescriptions and medical instructions from multiple doctors.
Seniors and Health Care
A recent study from Medco Health Solutions found that elderly patients are seven times more likely to experience a medication mistake than are patients younger than 65. The more doctors they see, the higher the error rate. Following are some highlights from the study:
• Seniors who routinely see only two doctors receive an average of 27 prescriptions annually. Those who see five or more doctors receive an average of 42 prescriptions; 10 or more physicians, about 66 prescriptions.
• About 25 percent of elderly patients see five or more physicians and 5 percent see eight or more physicians.
Given that many of the above prescriptions are for serious chronic conditions that if left untreated can have life changing or even life ending consequences, it's no mystery that contact lenses just aren't as important to this group of patients compared to when they were younger. Given a choice between life or lenses, life and comfort will win every time.
Prescribing Lenses for Seniors
Armed with this knowledge, we should do everything we can to help older patients who want to stay in contact lenses do so. Making it easier to wear lenses should be on the top of that list.
We often instinctively marry daily disposable lenses to a younger segment of wearers such as children, teens or weekend warrior sports enthusiasts. But given their ease of use and no need for lens care, they can be the perfect answer for appropriate senior patients. Daily disposable lenses now come in presbyopic as well as toric parameters, making them available for more patients. Even if a patient is successfully wearing lenses that require only one bottle of solution for care, one less task before bed might be all that's needed to convert a dropout to a longer term wearer.
Continuous wear is another lens modality that makes sense for this group. Less handling and maintenance is a logical choice for those who have to remember to take other medications. "Put them in and leave them in" will resonate well with this group, and not having to handle lenses daily will benefit seniors who have lost dexterity.
Make it Clear and Simple
Whichever lens you choose for any of your patients, make sure patients thoroughly understand any needed instructions. For seniors, it's critical to send them home with easy to understand, large print instructions. Large, clear pictures of any needed solution bottle labels will be appreciated, especially by patients who might feel overwhelmed by the sea of solutions at the drug store. Have these same documents available on your office Web site and let patients and any caregivers know where to find them in the event the originals are lost.
Nowadays, "Don't complicate my life" is a refrain you'll hear from many of your patients. In the case of seniors who are already seeing multiple doctors and taking multiple prescriptions with multiple directions, it's best to keep things as simple as possible and let patients enjoy all that contact lenses have to offer. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice – a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.