Jana and I are both learning the effects of getting older firsthand. I’ve written about her increasing anxiety, which I attribute, at least in part, to declining acuity in her vision and/or hearing. Now I have scientific backup: Jana might need glasses.
Jerome Hernandez and five other authors published a paper in February that investigated whether ophthalmologists’ tools could be used to measure the effects of aging in dogs. Turns out they can. “Dogs, like humans, experience eye changes with aging, i.e., hardening and clouding of the lens and accumulated oxidative damage from UV sunlight. Development of cloudy lenses in older dogs, referred to as nuclear sclerosis, occurs with the aging process,” the authors say. Many pet owners think that this cloudiness is a cataract problem; it usually is not, and it generally does not significantly affect the dog’s vision.
The researchers used with the dogs a “refractive evaluation” technique that is commonly used to assess vision in pre-verbal children. Now, many humans notice that, as they age, it gets more difficult to read things that are close up. When their arms are not long enough to compensate, they get reading glasses. With dogs, it’s the opposite. They become nearsighted, which means they have greater difficulty seeing things at a distance.
Here’s where Jana and I have something in common! I’ve been nearsighted since I was about 12, but I’ve noticed my vision changing a bit lately. But not for reading; like Jana, I seem to become more myopic with age. I’ve noticed that she has more trouble finding me again when she wanders across the large field where we play in the morning. She also seems to have more trouble hearing me call her, but selective hearing is not an age-related issue in Jana (or most dogs); that problem shows up in very young dogs.
Joking aside, I do think that her hearing is less sharp. She seems to be startled more easily, especially by cars approaching from behind us on our walks.
I haven’t had Jana’s eyes (or ears) checked, but this article backs up my suspicions. Jana’s world is getting a bit fuzzier, and that makes her feel less secure. If her hearing is also less sharp, that would compound her confusion and insecurity. It happens slowly, but those of us with aging dogs need to be aware of these changes. While I don’t know of any purveyors of doggie glasses and hearing aids, we can help in other ways: Using larger hand signals when trying to communicate across distance, for one, and going over to the dog if she seems confused or agitated.
The article is available on PLoS One here; and an article about it by Dr. Stanley Coren is here.