This month is dedicated to creating awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the number one cause of visual impairment for seniors. AMD can result in low vision, a term eye care professionals use to describe major vision loss that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a degenerative eye disease, impairment is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which is responsible for sharp vision in the central visual field. The disease causes a vision loss relating to central vision, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss from AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but on occasion vision loss can be sudden. Early signs of vision impairment from AMD include blurred areas in your central vision or unusually distorted vision. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and attention is known to halt progression of the disease and therefore prevent vision loss. For individuals who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include seniors, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and being overweight. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Those who are living with low vision should speak to their optometrist about low vision rehabilitation and specialized equipment that can enable a return to favorite activities. After a proper assessment, a low vision specialist can prescribe helpful low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
Although macular degeneration is more likely in those over age 65, anyone can be affected and therefore it is important for every individual to have a regular eye exam to assess eye health and discuss ways to prevent AMD and low vision.