Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older (National Eye Institute). Prevent Blindness America has designated the month of February as AMD Awareness Month to draw attention to blindness prevention in aging adults.
Risk factors for AMD, other than age, include smoking (doubles the risk); race (more common among Caucasians than African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos, and family history (increased risk). To reduce or delay your risk, make healthy life choices: avoid smoking; exercise regularly; keep blood pressure and cholesterol within normal range; eat a healthy diet that may include green, leafy vegetables and fish (unless contraindicated because of medications or doctor’s instructions).
Because symptoms are unlikely in the first and second stages of macular degeneration it is important to have regular vision exams, especially if risk factors apply to you. Your physician may ask you to use an Amsler grid to test your vision between exams. Vision loss, including distortion and/or blurred vision, may occur in late-stage AMD. Symptoms may not affect daily life if AMD is only impacting one eye. If the other eye is healthy, it will support your ability to read, drive, etc. However, it is important to continue to maintain a regular eye exam schedule since AMD in one eye increases the risk of AMD in the other eye.
Two types of late-stage AMD, dry and wet, should be closely monitored by you and your ophthalmologist. Dry AMD is caused by a breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the macula and of the supporting tissue beneath the macula. This results in the need for brighter and more lighting. Wet AMD happens when abnormal blood vessels have grown underneath the retina, often leading fluid and blood, and subsequent damage of the macula. This damage can occur rapidly.
No treatments are available at this time for early AMD. Your physician may recommend special vitamins to delay progression of intermediate stage AMD. Treatments for advanced AMD may include injections, photodynamic therapy or laser surgery.
Loss of vision can be traumatic, impacting your ability to continue to enjoy some recreational pursuits and hobbies, to drive safely, and to attend to activities of daily living independently. Individuals with advanced AMD may be depressed or angry. A support team including caregivers, healthcare providers, community support groups and low vision specialists can offer assistance, access to low vision aids, and help maintain a good quality of life.
Your state division of services for the blind is a helpful resource. Low vision aids include:
- Special reading glasses
- Magnifiers of many sizes and types
- Talking books and audio-captioned DVD movies
- Computers with large print and speech systems