Senior Health and Wellbeing | July 25, 2016
One of the greatest fears many people, especially seniors and the elderly, have is the fear of losing their sight. Many seniors in their 60s and 70s have likely noticed some vision loss, and this can be a normal part of aging. However, an eye condition known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, can impact the severity of the vision loss that is due to aging. This is why it is important to know the basic facts about AMD. The good news is, these facts include preventive steps seniors can take to reduce the risk of developing AMD.
We rely on the macula, which is found at the center of the retina, to help us read fine print and do needlework and other similar tasks that require sharp focus. AMD is a progressive eye condition that affects this area of the eye, and there are two types: dry AMD and wet AMD.
People in their 60s and 70s have the highest risk for developing AMD. While experts are not completely sure if AMD is genetic, it does tend to run in families, especially first-degree relatives (a person’s mother, father, and siblings). It is therefore important for patients who have family histories of AMD to make sure their eye doctors know about it.
The symptoms of wet AMD include visual distortion that causes straight lines to look like waves, blurred vision, and trouble seeing details (up close or far away). Advanced forms of wet AMD are more serious and include images similar to hallucinations. One of the most important facts about AMD is that is does not cause pain as a warning signal, so seniors should never skip routine eye exams.
Sometimes seniors confuse the condition of AMD with other eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, as well as a condition associated with diabetes called diabetic retinopathy. However, these conditions are not associated with AMD, do not increase the risk of developing AMD, and do not make AMD worse if it already exists.
The progression of dry AMD varies greatly from person to person. It also develops slowly over a number of years, and can remain stable in between routine eye exams. Those who have dry AMD often develop the ability to work around the vision loss by learning to compensate with their remaining vision, although most people with advanced AMD do become legally blind. Wet AMD progresses faster than dry AMD and is more likely to cause severe vision loss.
Even if a person’s AMD is not advanced, it can be dangerous to drive. As seniors age, they worry about the day they will no longer be able to get around by themselves as driving represents a symbol of remaining self-sufficient. However, continuing to drive with visual impairment is putting everyone who drives and rides in a vehicle at risk for accidents. Even though it is a difficult decision, their ability or inability to drive needs to be discussed with those who have developed AMD, and it is better to error on the side of caution.
There is currently no cure for AMD, although there are some treatments that can help halt the progression of the condition. In the case of wet AMD, there is photodynamic therapy, or PDT. This treatment utilizes a light-sensitive medicine, which is injected into the blood stream. Another treatment option for wet AMD is called laser photocoagulation. Doctors can determine if a patient is a good candidate for these treatments and may prescribe additional medicines that boost their effectiveness.
After knowing and understanding all the facts about AMD, an important question remains: Can AMD be prevented or halted? Fortunately, there are a variety of things seniors can do to help ward off AMD.
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