LIFE WITH VISION LOSS: COPING WITH MACULAR DEGENERATION
WHAT IS MACULAR DEGENERATION?
Macular degeneration is a serious eye disorder and the most common cause of vision loss in people over 60. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula — the part of the retina that sends light from the eye to the brain. It causes blurred central vision so individuals with the condition have difficulty reading, sewing, and driving. An estimated 13 million people have symptoms of macular degeneration and 250,000 are legally blind because of the disorder.
TYPES OF MACULAR DEGENERATION
There are two types of macular degeneration — wet and dry. Both forms of the disease develop gradually. Although they are serious disorders, neither causes pain or discomfort. Most people don't know they have AMD until it is discovered during a routine eye exam.
WET MACULAR DEGENERATION
"Wet" AMD causes deterioration in the area of the macula that makes it possible to see fine details. The condition occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to develop in the macula. Over time these new vessels separate the macula from its normal position in the back of the eye, resulting in vision loss. Although wet macular degeneration is less common than the dry form of the disease, it is responsible for 90 percent of legal blindness in people of all ages.
DRY MACULAR DEGENERATION
Dry macular degeneration is more common than wet AMD. It develops when light sensitive cells in the macula gradually disintegrate, resulting in blurred vision and loss of central vision. People with dry macular degeneration have difficulty recognizing faces, need more light for reading, and have slightly blurred vision.
MACULAR DEGENERATION RISK FACTORS
What causes the development of either form of macular degeneration is not completely understood. However the incidence of macular degeneration does increase with age. Other phyical and lifestyle factors associated with macular degeneration include:
- Light skin and eye color
- Extreme farsightedness — the ability to see objects that are far away
- High cholesterol diet, overweight
- Sun exposure
- Family history of macular degeneration
DIAGNOSING AND TREATING MACULAR DEGENERATION
Because there is no cure for either wet or dry macular degeneration, the goal of treatment is to control disease symptoms and slow down vision loss with laser surgery and medications. Older adults — with or without vision disorders — should schedule annual eye examinations with an ophthalmologist at least once a year to detect macular
degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and other eye problems common in older adults.
Besides regular eye exams encourage your parent to check her vision every day
for macular degeneration symptoms with an Amsler Grid. This tool looks like a piece of
graph paper with a dot in the center. While your parent focuses on the dot, ask her if any
of the lines appear blurred, wavy or seem to be missing. If so, she should schedule an
appointment with her ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
The ophthalmologist can provide a copy or the Amsler Grid can be downloaded from the Internet.
LOW VISION AIDS
A variety of low vision products are available that make it possible for older adults with vision problems live as independently. Some useful low vision aids:
- Magnifiers that allow people with limited vision to use a computer, sew, knit, or read.
- Large print or talking dictionaries, cookbooks, globes, maps and calculators
- Talking clocks, radios, kitchen timers and scales
- Canes, walkers or other mobility aids to prevent falls
- Magnifying screens for TVs and computers
- Low vision playing cards, Bingo and board games
- Audible pill and medication reminders
- Needle guides to help people with diabetes locate and stick the needle through the rubber stopper on an insulin bottle.
These and other useful low vision tools are available at pharmacies, medical supply
stores, or on the Internet.
Most public libraries have lots of materials for people with low vision. In addition to large print books, recorded books on CD or in Braille, libraries may also provide Braille sports schedules, tax forms, raised-line maps and recorded foreign language books.
HEALTH TIPS FOR PEOPLE WITH MACULAR DEGENERATION
A few simple, healthy living strategies can help your parent- and other members of your family too — maintain good vision and improve overall physical health:
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Serve healthy meals that include a variety of fruits and vegetables, fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, fresh tuna swordfish, cod lemon sole, halibut) whole grain breads, cereals and other foods rich in vitamin D, E, and C.
- Maintain normal blood pressure & healthy weight
- Wear sunglasses or a hat outdoors
- Have vision checked at least once a year
- Take a look at the Amsler Grid daily yourself. Even if you don't have vision problems, using the grid will encourage your older parent to use it.
LIVING WITH MACULAR DEGENERATION
When an older relative develops macular degeneration his family will face a variety of emotional, mental and physical challenges while he or she learns to adjust to the disability and develop new ways of living. Encourage him or her to remain as selfreliant as possible and provide all the support your parent needs to maintain hjs or her
physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.