SENIOR POWER The eyes have it…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday February 17, 2012 - 12:32:00 PM

Your first indication may be that notorious newspaper fine print. Held at the usual distance from your eyes, you find yourself holding the paper farther from your eyes to focus the image.  

Some gerontologists believe that it is not the graying of the hair but changes in the lens of the eye that come closest to being a universal normal age change in humans. The lens becomes thicker and heavier with age, reducing the ability to focus on close-up objects. The condition, called presbyopia, occurs in about 42% of people aged 52-64, 73% of people aged 65-74, and 92% of people 75+.  

There are things we can do when we recognize changes in our senses. The eye has the ability to adjust to see near and far objects, shading and colors, variations in lighting from almost complete darkness to sudden emergency into light. Age-related changes in vision occur in two primary areas of the eye: the lens and the retina. Presbyopia is the term used to describe slowness in changing the focus from far to near; stemming partly from the loss of elasticity in the lens. If you need simple magnification in both eyes and have no other conditions that require correction, you may try over-the-counter reading glasses, now available in some states. Always begin with the weakest glasses with which you can read. For dry eyes, use artificial tears.  

A regular complete eye examination to check for glaucoma and other serious eye diseases may detect such other undiagnosed systemic conditions as diabetes and hypertension. Four diseases are the principal causes of visual impairment and blindness in older persons: cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.  

Formation of cataracts is generally considered a disease, although some believe that if you live long enough, it’s inevitable. This is one of several examples that illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing between some normal age changes and disease.  

In (too) many communities, cataract surgery is regarded as “day surgery” or “ambulatory surgery” wherein the medical community expects the patient to deliver her/himself to the hospital at the crack of dawn (try getting a taxi then) and, in a few hours, to be picked up by friends or relatives, taxi prohibited. That s/he may have no family and or live alone is not considered. 

Nevertheless, I urge anyone whose ophthalmologist has diagnosed need for cataract surgery to proceed! It is amazing what a difference it can make. I was stuck for transportation to and from the hospital… until I mentioned it to a senior center staff member. Of course, that was in olden days… 

A Japanese friend’s 84 year old mother, who lives alone in the Greater Tokyo area, had cataract surgery on both eyes, one at a time, a day apart. If a patient is living with someone, s/he can go home. Okaa-san chose to remain in the hospital “for some days because she preferred to do so. It was costly, but she didn't want to go home until she was able to go out for grocery shopping, etc..” The total cost was $720. She paid $520.00, mainly for the hospital stay. Japan has a mandatory (universal) health care system. Her monthly health insurance payment is $70. 

Eye floaters are spots in your vision. They may look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes. Most are caused by age-related changes that occur as the jelly-like substance (vitreous) inside your eyes becomes more liquid. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together and can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as floaters. 

If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of an emergency that requires prompt attention. Spots may eventually settle down and drift out of the line of vision 

“Age-related vision problems” is a slide show by the Mayo Clinic staff, available online. 


An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine (M.D.) who diagnoses and treats eye diseases and performs eye surgery. Ophthalmologists used to expect the patient to have the prescription filled by an optician, and then return to have it checked! That too was in olden days. 

Forty three ophthalmology physicians in or near Berkeley, California are listed as accepting the Medicare-approved amount on all claims. This is called “accepting Medicare assignment.” Always consult My Medicare for the names of physicians who accept Medicare assignment in your area. Medicare will respond “Accepts Medicare-approved amount on all claims.” Nevertheless, double check when making your initial appointment.  

It’s becoming difficult for senior citizens to feel for physicians’ alleged money problems. When attempting to make a doctor’s appointment, you are asked about your insurance; it can be unwise to respond “Medi Medi” (stands for Medicare and Medi-Cal), or “Medi-Cal” or even “Medicare!” Some physicians require a senior citizen (even a long-time patient) with Medicare to also have a secondary insurer other than Medi-Cal. These tend to be eeking out a living in sports med, orthopedics, cosmetic surgery… 

Let me know of senior citizen deny-ers!  

Medicare does not cover eyeglasses other than one prescription following cataract surgery. 

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry (O.D.) who is trained to examine, diagnose, and treat conditions of the visual system. Both can prescribe corrective lenses.  

An optician fits and makes eyeglasses and, in some states, fits contact lenses from a doctor’s prescription.  

I am not a medical doctor. 

Here’s a tip. When you get “new glasses,” i.e. when your lens prescription is updated or otherwise changed, the optician may ask you if you “want the old lenses.” Always say Yes! Keep them in a safe place.  


Meredith M. Whiteside, OD, FAAO, Associate Clinical Professor; Director, Geriatric & Elder Care Outreach Clinic, shares with Senior Power information about general eye care and the University of California, Berkeley Optometric clinic, which is open 7 days a week. For those who have a medical condition that prevents them from leaving their home or nursing facility to receive eye care, there is the Home Visit Clinic. In order to ensure that those who really need in home care receive it, documentation is required from (typically) the patient's physician who certifies the person's disability and gives a summary of the medical conditions including medications. The scheduling person for this program at U.C. Berkeley Optometry is Theresa Bertero, who can be reached at 510 642-2020x1. 

Whiteside mentions another clinic that may be of use to Senior Power column readers who are patients at the Over 60 Health Center. There is an optometry clinic that runs 2 days per week. She points out that the Lions Club does some vision screenings for seniors at well. The person in charge of that program is Ed Schroth (pronounced "Sch-rOat"). He can be reached at (925) 432-3013. 



President Obama's budget request for fiscal year 2013 includes investments in some programs for seniors, but cuts in others. Older Americans Act funding would generally be frozen, and Medicare spending would be reduced by $302.8 billion over 10 years. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Current-March 4, 2012. STAGEBRIDGE presents the World Premiere of Counter Attack!, a new play by Joan Holden, starring Joan Mankin as Marlene, an aging waitress who discovers that her lifelong position is suddenly under attack. You¹d be surprised to discover what really goes on behind the counter. Inspired by Candacy Taylor¹s 2009 book, Counter Culture, the American Coffee Shop Waitress. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. For show times and to reserve ticketst: or 510-444-4755 x114. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Friday, Feb. 17. 9:30-11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Creating Your Personal Learning Network. Join Mike McMahon, Volunteer, Learn to use the Internet and tools like Twitter. With the rise of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, individuals can now create virtual learning classes on any topic of their choosing. Sign up. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers General Meeting. Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. (at Geary). # 38 (not 38L) bus. 415-552-8800. 

Tuesday, Feb. 21. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda.  

A representative from the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program (HICAP) will provide an overview of Medicare coverage and options including the Medicare Program (eligibility, costs, benefits, and recent changes); Medicare Supplement Plans (Medigap), Medical Advantage Plans and Medi-Cal; and provide information on Medicare’s Prescription Drug benefit. Sign up in the office or call 510-747-7506. See also Feb. 28. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK. 510-981-5190. Note: Gray Panthers Berkeley office is now located in the Center for Independent Living (CIL) building on Telegraph (between Dwight and Parker), 2539 Telegraph Ave, Suite B, Berkeley, CA 94704. Phone: 510-548-9696. 

Thursday, Feb. 23. 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor, for a piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Register in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. Free. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Chamber Music in C Major. Noon concert. Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall: Mozart: String Quintet No. 3 in C major, K.515. Michael Hwang, Michaela Nachtigall, violins. Sally Jang, Melissa Panlasigui, violas. Cindy Hickox, cello. Beethoven: String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3. Vivian Hou, Jason Wu, violins. Marissa Sakoda, viola. Michael Tan, cello. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda.  

Low Income Assistance. A representative from the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program (HICAP) will provide an overview on getting help with health care costs including the Medicare program, Medi-Cal, SSI, Medicare Savings Programs, and Low Income Subsidy (extra help) for prescription drugs. The eligibility and application process will be reviewed. Sign up in the office or 510-747-7506. 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043.  


Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Friday, March 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Dept. of Music students perform chamber music. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Tuesday, March 6. 1 P.M. Mastick Book Club. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. Book Club members will review House Rules by Jodi Picoult. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, March 7. 12:15-1 P.M. University Wind Ensemble: Robert Calonico, drector Ron Nelson: Savannah River Holiday, Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite 1. March: Seventeen Come Sunday 2. Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy 3. March: Folk Songs from Somerset Morten Lauridsen/arr. H. Robert Reynolds: O Magnum Mysterium Steven Bryant: Stampede Henry Fillmore/arr. Loras Schissel: Lassus Trombone. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864. 


Wednesdays, March 7 and 14. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. AARP Driver Safety Program. Designed for individuals 50+, this 8 hour course is taught in 2, 4-hour sessions over a 2-day period. Preregistration required; cost is $12 per person for AARP members, $14 non-AARP members. Registration payable by check ONLY, made payable to AARP. Sign up in the Mastick Office. 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, March 8. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. See also March 15. 

Thursday, March 8. 6:30 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Join board certified psychologist Dr. Marshall Zaslove for an evening meditation workshop and interaction. He will base his presentation on the book, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, by Rajinder Singh. 510-526-7512. 

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself. This is the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. (And a contemporary condition as well.) Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” The story of the America's Cup begins in the mid-19th century with the family of Colonel John Stevens and an invitation to the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. Mr. Borchert will pick up the story from there and outline the fascinating history of the event. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. University Baroque Ensemble: 59th Annual Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181.