Senior Moments

By Brian P. Dunleavy

lensfocusHistorically, dispensing premium spectacle lenses to senior citizens has presented opticians with many unique challenges but eyecare professionals with the right approach and mindset can find success up-selling premium lenses to this unique demographic. Here are some things to consider:

1.     Think progressive, even with long-time standard bifocal wearers. In the past, standard bifocal wearers switching to progressives have often ended up being non-adapts; the two lens types are just too different. However, today’s free-form technology has reduced problematic peripheral distortion in progressive lenses and enabled the creation of prescription lenses that match exactly with wearers’ visual needs – as a result, fewer non-adapts. “Nothing drives me more crazy than hearing someone say they can’t switch older bifocal wearers to progressives,” says Gisele Klein, optician and owner of Impressive Eyewear in Surrey, B.C. “It’s just not true.” If you can convince older patients that the visual benefits of free-form progressives are worth the extra cost – not always an easy thing to do – you’ve done the heavy lifting, she adds.

2.     Talk treatments. As seniors are often plagued with ocular health issues such as cataracts, dry eye and/or allergies, glare protection is important in this patient population. Gray and/or pink tint treatments for spectacle lenses were once popular among elderly patients for this reason. Now, however, seniors are more interested in photochromic lenses, both for their convenience and glare-reducing capabilities outdoors. Anti-reflective coating is obviously a must for older eyeglass wearers, to soften glare and halos, particularly at night. In addition, ultraviolet coatings eliminate the danger of damaging sun exposure to the eyes, which has been linked to the growth of cataracts and the incidence of eye diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.

3.     Take it light. Older patients can be bothered by heavier specs, either because they tend to slide down their noses more or irritate their thin, sensitive skin. High-index plastic and polycarbonate lenses address these issues, and improve wearers’ overall look as well.

4.      Explain yourself. When fitting older patients, it’s important to be polite and respectful without being condescending. Not all senior patients are going to understand free-form and other state-of-the-art lens technologies. However, given that you will need to take several measurements in order to fit the newer lenses – a process that may be taxing for some older patients – it is important to explain what you are doing and why. Keep them engaged.

5.      Measure up – or, in some cases, down. Many older people slouch when seated, or are hunched over due to arthritis or other physical ailments; still others are wheelchair-bound or use walkers. All of these scenarios make fitting at a conventional dispensing table difficult. Opticians should not ask or expect these patients to conform to the dispensing table; rather, they should seek to fit according to how their elderly patients sit and/or position their heads (and eyes) when reading, watching TV or engaging in other activities (such as playing card or board games).

“You need to get down to their level,” Klein explains. “If that means crouching down to them and moving my tools to accommodate them, I do it and I ask them a lot of questions to make sure I’m fitting them according to their needs. For example, I ask, ‘Is this how you sit when you read?’ I don’t try to change their posture; I want them to see in my shop like they’ll see at home in their new eyewear.”

Fitting elderly patients with premium spectacle lenses may take a little extra time and effort, but in the end you’ll reap the benefits of happier patients – and healthier sales.