As reported by The Hartford Courant, February 15, 2007.

Welcome to Middle Age - and Presbyopia

By Korky Vann

You're holding menus at arm's length and squinting. You've had difficulty reading items on your computer. Numbers on your cellphone's tiny screen are indistinguishable. The buttons on your iPod, DVD player and remote seem frustratingly small. Deciphering the fine print on a map is, well, impossible.

Sound familiar? Welcome to middle age.

The condition is called presbyopia, the inability to focus on objects close up. And it happens to all of us once we hit our 40s or 50s. As the elasticity of the eye naturally decreases, closeup sight is affected, then, within a few years, our mid-distance vision, from 2 feet to 10 feet, is also affected. Other signs of presbyopia can include eyestrain, headaches, eye fatigue and blurred vision.

"It's not a disease, it's a condition of aging," says Dr. Elizabeth Simmons, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington

For the country's 80 million boomers, it's another depressing sign that "Forever Young" is a song title, not a promise. For entrepreneurs, it's an opportunity to jump on the "silver industries" bandwagon. (The term, coined by Harry Moody, director of academic affairs for AARP, refers to new companies responding to the needs of America's aging population.)

Take Joanie Taylor, for example. In 2002, the former ophthalmology nurse began to notice that patients and friends of a certain age were constantly complaining that they couldn't make out the numbers on their cell phones. She and a partner created the Phone Monocle (www.thephonemonocle.com), a soft plastic device with a magnifying lens that slips over cell phone screens. The gadget, available in seven colors and selling for $9.95, was named one of the top 100 inventions of 2004 by Popular Mechanics magazine.

"It works on cell phones, cordless phone, iPods, insulin pumps, global positioning systems, any small electronic device with a hard to read screen," says Taylor, CEO of Magnifics, Inc., Phone Monocle's parent company. "The great thing is that you can match it to the color of your phone and it's not really noticeable. No one likes to admit they're getting older and can't see as well as they used to."

Helping the "You're So Vain'" generation disguise the fact that they're donning reading glasses was Mark Levit's goal. His company, VisAcuity.com, features trendy cheaters with such names as "English Countryside," "Smokin' Cool," "Sassy," "Aspen," and Pina Colada." Glasses, featuring non-distorting lens and optical quality frames, range in price from $12 to $100.

"Boomers have distinctly different tastes and preferences than the `Matures', a term referring to their parents or grandparents,'" says Levit, a former professor of marketing at New York University. "They want style, they want fashion and they want quality. They don't want the vanity crushing drugstore versions hanging from a chain around their necks. For Boomers, reading glasses may be essential, but they'd rather think of them as fashion accessory than a necessity."

At Cheatersreadingglasses.com, another online retailer featuring stylish eyewear, customers are welcomed with the tag line, "For anyone with near-vision troubles who wants to look good while reading the small type of life, you've come to the right place."

Before stocking up on reading glasses, Simmon advises individuals experiencing any vision changes to schedule an eye exam.

"If presbyopia is diagnosed, you and your ophthalmologist can discuss such options as prescription or over the counter reading glasses," says Dr. Simmons. "The reality is that if you're 40 or older, you're going to need one or the other."