This month is dedicated to increasing awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the leading cause of blindness for individuals age 65 and over. AMD often results in low vision, a term optometrists use to categorize substantial vision loss that is also called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which enables clear vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a vision loss relating to the central vision zone, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss from AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but occasionally disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central vision or very distorted sight. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and attention is known to slow advancement of the disease and therefore avoid vision loss. For those who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include seniors, women, Caucasians and individuals with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, hypertension, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients can reduce your risk.
Those who are living with low vision should consult with their optometrist about low vision rehabilitation and special equipment that can facilitate independence. After a proper assessment, a low vision expert can suggest appropriate low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
While macular degeneration is more likely in the elderly, anyone can be affected and therefore it is wise for every individual to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and discuss preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.