Age Related Macular Degeneration - helpful tips and resources

Februrary is Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) month, and unlike the most recent National Margarita Day – (which was Monday February 22nd in case you missed it) – AMD did not nearly get the buzz it deserved.

AMD is a common and incurable eye condition and leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older.  It casues damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina and part of the eye which lets us see objects that are straight ahead.  The macula is responsible for providing sharp, central vision.  It is the most sensitive part of the retina and when damaged may distort your center field of view.

Because there are very little determinable symptoms of AMD, vision loss in many cases does not occur for a very long time.  In other more acute cases, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a complete loss of vision in one or both eyes.

How do I know if I have AMD?

You may not experience many symptoms of early AMD, but your eye doctor certainly can during your annual exam.  The doctor will look for drusen, which are yellow deposits beneath the retina.  The presense of drusen is a normal sign of aging, but the presence of medium to large drusen may indicate that you have AMD.

There are three defined stages of AMD, and it is possible for the stages and severity to be different among both eyes.

Early AMD = presence of medium-sized drusen.  People in this stage typically do not experience vision loss.

Intermediate AMD = presence of larger drusen, pigment changes in the retina, or both.  Again, these changes can only be detected during an eye exam.People in this stage may experience some vision loss.

Late AMD = presence of large drusen and damage to the macula.  People in late stage AMD are most certainly experiencing central field of view distortion and other loss of vision.

Here’s a little tid-bit of good news among this no-cure sob story: Not everyone with early AMD will develop late AMD.  With prompt detection, there are steps you can take to further reduce your risk of vision loss from late stage AMD.  Detection of early AMD may prompt your eye care professional to suggest annual comprehensive exams to determine if your condition is advancing.  Also see “How can I lower my risks”  below and make sure you’re incorporating those into your lifestyle.  Adopting these habits may help you keep your vision longer. 

For patients whose AMD advances to intermediate and late stages, there is also hope.  Reasarchers at the National Eye Institute testing whether taking nutritional supplements could protect against progression of AMD found that daily intake of certain high dose vitamins and minerals may not reverse or stop AMD but would certainly slow it down.  A number of manufacturers offer nutritional supplements that were formulated on these studies.  Consult your eye care professional about which one is right for you.  Advanced AMD typically results in severe vision loss and can be treated with injections, laser treatment and surgery. 

Prevention

Who is at risk?

  • Age is the major factor.  AMD is most likely to occur in adults over 60.
  • Smoking doubles the risk.
  • Being Caucasion increases your chances.
  • Family History plays a part.  If older generations have expereinced AMD, consider this a symptom and schedule your annual eye exam and read below.

How can I lower my risks?

  • Don't smoke for Christ' Sake!
  • Exercise - this should be a habit of aging adults anyways, otherwise your'll find yourself catatonically attached to your favorite recliner.
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Eat an eye-vitamin rich diet - full of dark green vibrant vegetables and fish.

If you or a loved one is in danger of vision loss from late stage AMD, there are supportive services and innovative resources which can help you make the most of your remaining vision and maintain your independence.  Below is only a handful of services and devices that we think are pretty neat.

Supportive Services

Innovative Resources & Gadgets

Comprehensive Eye Resource Lists

If you’re nearing your senior years, its important to be aware of the early stages of AMD, in which many people show no symptoms or loss of vision. A yearly eye exam can help catch this condition and allow you to ease into ways to deal with the inevitable vision loss. Unfortunately, there are no treatments for AMD, and coping with vision loss can be a traumatic experience. Having low vision means that even everyday tasks can become challenging, and being aware of this may help you continue to enjoy friends, family, hobbies and other interests as you always have - like whipping up a refreshing Margarita.

Published on Feb 26, 2016.

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