On the creeping of the years and vision

Last week, I was forced to face the fact that I’m definitely, solidly, undeniably now middle-aged.

Oh, I could delude myself before and say that I’m “mature” and even pretend to some extent that the slow deterioration that time causes biological organisms doesn’t apply to me. I could even dismiss the increasing creakiness in my knees and the ache in my lower back that I seem to notice more and more upon rising in the morning as “nothing,” because they only cause me minor annoyance. Indeed, I could pretend that the little niggling bits of evidence that my body is aging, just like that of everyone else who’s ever lived, weren’t significant.

Until last month.

A few weeks ago, noticing that I was having more and more trouble reading, particularly small type, I finally broke down and scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor. The eye exam only confirmed what I feared.


Yes, I needed bifocals.

Thanks to my being blessed with the means to afford them, I decided to get the latest, greatest pair of progressive lenses. Because I’m unfortunately very near-sighted and have a strong prescription (don’t ask what it is!), glasses for me have been quite expensive for a long time, mainly because I’ve had to get high index lenses if I wanted lenses that didn’t make me look like Waldo in the Van Halen video Hot for Teacher. Add progressive lenses to that, and you’re talking mucho dinero, more than I had even guessed beforehand.

Last Tuesday I picked up the pair of glasses that was the result, and I have to say, the glasses are probably worth every penny. I can read again, even fine print, without having to take my glasses off and, due to my extreme nearsightedness, holding the text a mere three inches or so from my eyes. It’s truly a beautiful thing. Even better, contrary to the warnings of several people who told me that progressive lenses are hard to get used to, I’m pretty much used to them now. I’m not falling off curbs or getting headaches or forgetting that looking through the lower part of the lens can cause distortion if I’m looking at an object more than arm’s length away. When reading, all I have to do is to adjust the position of the text until I find the part of the lens that allows it to come into perfect focus. The only problem I’ve noticed has nothing to do with the progressive lenses. It’s the same problem that I always get when I get a new pair of glasses, namely that it feels too tight and seems to dig into my mastoid processes until I’ve broken the frame in. Given that my difficulties reading crept up on me over the course of a couple of years, having them corrected instantly was a revelation.

I can read again–without difficulty, that is. I even wore them while doing surgery the other day, and it definitely made a difference.

So, to all of my fellow forty-somethings who are now noticing that you’re holding the newspaper at arm’s length in order to read it or that you’re having trouble reading small text at all, don’t be like me. Accept the fact that you’re turning into an old fart, as I did, and get a pair of reading glasses, bifocals, or progressive lenses. Embrace your impending decrepitude!

I did–just in time for the new Harry Potter book to come out next week.


  1. #1 Pieter B
    July 9, 2007

    Presbyopia is not a sign of middle age, cataracts are. I’m middle-aged, and you’re not.

    I was offered the option of having my old cloudy OEM lenses upgraded to make me 20/20, but decided to retain my nearsightedness; I didn’t want to give up the ability to take off my glasses for close work. Something for you to consider in another 20 years or so.

  2. #2 Skeptyk
    July 9, 2007

    Yay, optics! I praise the memory of Ben Franklin each day for the invention of bifocals (I have not verified that factoid, but I think he invented them).

    When I got my reading glasses it was like being a kid again with my very first pair of glasses. I did not worry about nerd factor at all (I was in 7th grade and it was already clear that I was quite nerdy). I could see things, far away things, like treetops and the blackboard! I nearly crashed my bicycle looking around at all the little things I did not know ANYONE could see from here.

    I am one of those who doesn’t like my progressives because the window for reading is too narrow for my taste, but I must say that reading glasses and bifocals have been thrilling for me.

  3. #3 Skeptyk
    July 9, 2007

    Oh, yeah, and my polarized prescription bifocal sunglasses are the best thing I have bought in the past decade! Really. I got a second pair for kayaking. Can’t live without them.

  4. #4 AnnR
    July 9, 2007

    Flexible spending accounts are great for glasses. I live in a state that is a tax h#!! so buying those specs pre-tax knocks about 30-50% off the price.

    IMO getting the readers or progressives makes one appear MUCH younger than holding things out at arms length or borrowing other people’s glasses to read menus. I can not tell you how many people I encounter who squint at PC screens or put their resolution up so high our applications won’t display properly. Drives me nuts!

  5. #5 ArtK
    July 9, 2007

    I can sympathize. I just ordered my first set of progressive lenses yesterday. I’m really looking forward to being able to read without squinting again!

  6. #6 Keanus
    July 9, 2007

    I’ve had bifocals or trifocals for more than 20 years (I’m 68). The first few pairs were traditional bifocals, then I got ones that had a very narrow field of view for close-up seeing (they were terrible). But the ones I’ve had for the last three years are great with full field width for things near and far. The lenses are a plastic with a very high refractive index so that the lenses are quite thin and weigh next to nothing. And most importantly, I can see almost everything. And with my last examination, the ophthalmologist explained a complaint of mine (that I saw two images often): My eyes had become misaligned vertically with my right eye pointing about six or seven degrees above the left, so I now have a prism built into the right lens shifting the direction of that eye to match the other. Presto! I’ve no longer got double vision.

    Skeptyk, you need a different brand of progressives. The first brand I had (I don’t remember the name) was like you describe, but the ones I use now offer just as wide a field of view for reading as they do for distant viewing. Check with your optician or ophthalmologist. The designs from make to make differ radically.

  7. #7 sally marshall
    July 9, 2007

    I recently made a different decision under similar circumstances. I paid vast amounts of money for progressive lenses and after 6 weeks was still suffering from nausea, headaches and an inability to adapt. 4 weeks ago I had laser surgery so that I now see clearly at distance and use reading glasses for close work. I calculate that the savings in spectacles and/or contact lenses will pay for the surgery in around 4 years.

  8. #8 Bunjo
    July 9, 2007

    I wear varifocal (progressive) glasses. I explained to the optician that I read and use the computer a lot, so the zones of the lenses that cater for very near and near distances were made larger than usual. They work really well.

    They’re also hi-index plastic, very thin, very light, and regrettably expensive. Luckily I’m old enough (cough) that my age related long sight is balancing my long term short sight and I don’t hacve to change my prescription as often as I used to…

  9. #9 George
    July 9, 2007

    As hard as needing reading glasses was a few years back. Noting that your baby brother has them as well was disturbing.

    Fortunately, I only need the reading boost. So I get many pair of the cheap drug store type = Kmart 3 / $9.99. I have polluted my world with cheap reading glasses…

  10. #10 Alison
    July 9, 2007

    Ugh. Tried progressives, just didn’t work. I couldn’t get used to moving my head instead of my eyes. I’m going to have to go the bifocal route, though, because I have to take the distance glasses off to do things like write checks, and I’m going to lose them one day. Again. Maybe I’ll mention a bigger field for close vision and see what I can get that doesn’t cover most of my face. 😉

  11. #11 Pieter B
    July 9, 2007

    I’m a professional computer geek, and I’ve tried several makes of progressive lenses with varying amounts of success. My advice is to get a pair of single-vision glasses specifically for computer use; continually adjusting your head position to find the “sweet spot” for the monitor will cause you all sorts of neck tension. Single-vision lenses will relieve that almost immediately.

    I got the super-deluxe everyday glasses from my optometrist, but went to Costco for two pair of computer glasses, which were just over $100 each with anti-refection coating. One pair for the office, one pair for home, and the prescription for those hasn’t changed in three or four years.

  12. #12 marianne
    July 9, 2007

    Why do developers make the type so small on the new web based software apps? I do a lot of User Acceptance Testing and I get that complaint “off the record” from a lot of over 40 users. They usually don’t want it written in their report because they say they fear age discrimination. This bothers me. Is it the arrogance of younger developers who think their bodies won’t change? Or is it that the needs of the less able bodied are just a hassle these days?

  13. #13 Skeptyk
    July 9, 2007

    Orac, do you use telescope glasses (with attached loupes) for surgery? If so, be sure to update them once in a while, as your working distance may change a bit without you being aware until you get a bunch of new aches as you compensate.

    Tnks, Keanus, et al, for the ideas of finding a different brand/pair with a wider sweet spot, maybe that will work. It was the moving my head to read and tilting before the computer that I found so annoying. My first pair of readers are now my computer glasses.

    I think the bifocals make me look distinguished and professorial. My significant other has half glasses to read, not being all nearsighted. They look very Oxford donnish.

  14. #14 JScarry
    July 9, 2007

    You’ll really start to feel old in a couple more years when AARP starts sending you membership applications.

  15. #15 khan
    July 9, 2007

    Is there available eye surgery for geezer vision?

  16. #16 Janne
    July 9, 2007

    Marianne, why not just adjust the default text size in the browser? That’s one of the great things about many browser-based apps; you can adjust things to be the way you like.

  17. #17 Julia
    July 9, 2007

    I haven’t hit that quite yet. (I’m 38.)

    My husband, just a little more than a year older than me, started having those problems late last year. He wears contacts. He’s invested in some reading glasses, and that’s doing the trick for him right now. (Still a problem with restaurant receipts — the really annoying thing is that they’ll bring out the receipt with the total in nice big type, but they don’t bring it back with the credit card slip, which is almost always unreadable for him. 😛 I get stuck with figuring out the tip on a regular basis now, not a problem at all unless I’m drunk, and even then it just takes me 2X as long.)

  18. #18 mali
    July 10, 2007

    Loved you on SGU #101!

    I came across the following blog not too long ago: “Glassy Eyes”. He reviews online discount prescription glasses businesses. I decided to try it and just got two pairs of glasses in the mail today. $25 for reading glasses, and $60 for prescription sunglasses. I think I’m going to take back my $300 pair to Lenscrafters as I’m still within the 30 days.

    Although you already purchased expensive glasses, it’s a good way to acquire 2nd and 3rd and 4th pairs.

  19. #19 Inquisitive Raven
    July 10, 2007

    I also just got progressives, well, last week. I’m still getting used to them. Oddly, they don’t make much difference for my computer use. They do make a difference for reading. Thing is, I’ve needed them for a couple of years, at least, and just couldn’t find the time to get to the eye doc.

    As for changing the default size of the text, that doesn’t always work. For one thing, sometimes it’s the non-text elements that I need to be able to see better. For another, an awful lot of web pages don’t adjust the non-text elements to compensate for the text size change resulting in graphic elements overlapping the text. Making Light has a good solution. The website itself is coded for three different sizes of type. You pick the one you want on the right sidebar.

  20. #20 James
    July 10, 2007

    If it makes you feel better Orac, I’ve had bifocals since I was 14.

  21. #21 Interrobang
    July 10, 2007

    I’m not as old as most of the commenters here, as I’m still on the low side of 35, but I’ve had glasses on and off for most of my life. I started wearing the damned things when I was 18 mos. and wore them until I was 16 or 17. My eye doctor claimed that I’d had a “post-adolescent nearsighted phase” that corrected my hyperopia to 20/20 in my one eye, and near that in the other. I don’t rightly know what’s going to happen to my vision in another 10 years or so, but I hope it doesn’t involve myopia; I don’t know how to handle it.

    Maryanne, tell your users to get friendly with the keystroke combination [Ctrl] + [+/=]. That makes the text size bigger in most browsers. To make the text smaller again, use [Ctrl] + [-/_]. (This has been a public service announcement from your friendly neighbourhood technical writer/software tester. Have a nice day.)

  22. #22 josh
    July 10, 2007

    You think nearsighted is tough? I have around +4 sph in both eyes plus I’m arou 3.5 cyl (astigmatism) in both. The cyl means I can’t get daily contacts and any lenses I do get are a lot more expensive. Plus I don’t think I can get laser correction that easy either. I’m only 23, I’m not looking forward to age deterioration!
    On the plus side I now have auto-tinting lenses which means I have an excuse for “shades” in winter!

  23. #23 Porky
    July 10, 2007

    “oh, wah wah, i’m old because i have bifocals, bring me my depends while i fire up the studebaker”

    Excuse my virulent hatred, i’ve got all of you geezers beat, having been wearing bifocals since i was 7 years old, and being told that “oh, you must really be 40 because you’re wearing bifocals” starts to grate after a while, let alone after about 3/4 of my entire life.

  24. #24 trrll
    July 10, 2007

    I have progressives, and had little difficulty getting used to them, although I find that I can now no longer judge whether distant lines are straight, either with my glasses on or off. Apparently, the brain compensates for the distortion of the variable focus, but not completely.

    I’ve not had good results with high-index plastics, however; the chromatic aberration drives me nuts.

  25. #25 Ktesibios
    July 10, 2007

    The opthalmologist told me “you’re ready for bifocals” nearly ten years ago. Unfortunately, they’re not a good solution for me. The kind of work I do (I’m a recording studio techie) pretty much demands that I be able to focus on my work, whatever its angular position wrt my eyes.

    If I’m lying under a console trying to solder something on one of the motherboards, moving myself to bring the area I need to see within the lower part of my field of vision, where the “near” part of a pair of bifocals would be, is often not doable, and moving the object itself, which might be 12 feet long and weigh over 1500 pounds, is definitely not on. So I’ve had to settle for having two pairs of glasses, one for walking around and driving (which means a prescription in the neighborhood of -7 for both eyes) and a pair that are a couple of points weaker, for reading and covering the “dead zone” where I can’t focus either with my normal glasses or without glasses.

    It works, but what I really want for work is a pair of glasses with adjustable negative focal length. I wouldn’t mind if it looked like I had a pair of lenses swiped from 35mm SLR cameras strapped to my head (in fact, taht might be a plus), as long as I could adjust them to bring the workpiece into sharp focus.

    I wonder if anyone makes such a thing.

  26. #26 Margaret Romao Toigo
    July 10, 2007

    I had never worn glasses before, and I was getting by just fine with my $10 drug store reading glasses, when my eldest daughter brought home a note from the school nurse who advised that she get an eye exam, so I decided that we’d go together.

    It took me about a week to get used to progressive lenses. I had a mild, but constant, headache, I got dizzy whenever I looked down, and I even felt a little nauseous at times.

    Now, I feel strange whenever I don’t wear them.

  27. #27 marcia
    July 10, 2007

    My new prescription now includes one for reading so it’s time for me to get progressives. I’m leaning toward Zeiss lenses, but there’s so much information out there:


    Anybody put their progressives on for the first time and have no problem? What lenses did you choose?

  28. #28 mark
    July 10, 2007

    When I first wore non-prescription safety glasses for working in a factory, they gave me trouble (I never wore glasses before). When I moved my head, peripheral objects would distort. I guess the best solution would have been to wear blinders so I would only look straight ahead through the lenses.

  29. #29 Pieter B
    July 11, 2007

    I had no problem at all with progressives, marcia, but I think it’s more a case of the individual’s eye/brain wiring than the brand of lens. FWIW, I’m a Varilux fan, though what I’ve read about Zeiss sounds quite good.

    Ktesibios, some years back I had trifocals which had a reading-distance section below center and a medium-distance section above center. I think the design was called DD25 or DD50. They were quite handy for things like hammering nails above eve level and running wiring in the crawl space below my house. Ask your optician if they’re still available.

  30. #30 Bunjo
    July 11, 2007

    I adjusted to my first (and all subsequent) pairs of progressive glasses with absolutely no problem at all. I did have to be more careful walking downstairs, dipping my head to keep the stair treads in focus.

    My wife found that it took a week to adjust to her first pair, and had to go back after a week for a later pair to be re-fitted. It would appear that some people adapt easily, but for the others the accuracy of fit is *very* important and they should go back to the opticians if necessary.

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