“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…” – Joni Mitchell
Often in life, we don’t appreciate some of the best things until they’re gone. When we are young, we don’t really consider the possibility of losing things that we’ve always had, and we are too wrapped up in the busyness of life to give much thought to things like disease prevention. However, as we age, many things that we once took for granted, like vision, might begin to diminish, leaving us with new challenges and concerns we never thought we’d face. For people who have developed Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), things that once seemed to be a given in life, like driving, reading, or recognizing faces, now become increasing daily struggles. For AMD Awareness Month, we want to shine a light on the ins and outs of this degenerative vision disease, as well as on the steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you and your aging loved ones!
What is AMD?
According to the Bright Focus Foundation, Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 60 and older. This degenerative eye disease occurs when the eye’s macula begins to break down or erode. The macula, which contains the largest concentration of cones, or light-sensitive cells, is located in the center of the retina. The macula is responsible for your central vision, and your ability to distinguish fine details. For tasks such as reading fine print, reading street signs, and focusing on small details, your macula is behind it all!
Macular degeneration exists in two forms—dry and wet.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration makes up about 85 to 90 percent of all AMD cases. In this case, yellow protein deposits, known as drusen, build up underneath the retina, and lead to deterioration of the macula over time. It is not uncommon for older individuals to have drusen deposits in their eyes, but larger, more frequent deposits are one of the first triggers of macular degeneration.
Signs & Symptoms
- Dark or blurry spot in your central vision
- Blurry distance and/or reading vision
- Colors appearing muted or darker
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- Trouble transitioning from bright light to low light
- Brighter light needed in order to see close up
Wet Macular Degeneration
According to the Bright Focus Foundation, wet macular degeneration accounts for about 10 percent of AMD cases, but results in 90 percent of legal blindness cases. Of the two types of AMD, the wet macular degeneration is definitely more severe, and considered to be advanced. In wet macular degeneration, abnormal blood vessels form and grow behind the macula, typically near drusen deposits. These blood vessels are very fragile, and often leak blood and fluid, which causes the macula to scar. In a matter of weeks, or even days, the individual’s central vision can become altered, or disappear completely.
Signs & Symptoms
- Loss of central vision
- Size and depth appearing differently in each eye
- Dark or blank spots in your vision
- Distorted vision – straight lines appearing crooked or squiggly
- Colors appearing muted, or appearing differently in each eye
The exact causes of AMD are not fully known, but medical experts are able to pinpoint the following risk factors:
- Age is the number one risk factor. According to the Bright Focus Foundation, one-third of adults over the age of 75 are affected by AMD.
- Smoking can drastically increase your risk of developing AMD! This is because smoking causes oxidative damage, which can directly affect the retina.
- Genetics and family history can also increase your risk of developing AMD.
- Gender can play a role, as females are more likely than males to develop AMD.
- Race – Caucasians are more likely than other races to develop AMD.
- Sun damage to the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light has been found, in some studies, to correlate with AMD.
- A diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and high glycemic index foods (white rice, bread, and pasta) can increase your risk of developing AMD.
- High blood pressure restricts oxygen flow by constricting the blood vessels that nourish the retina.
- Eye color can also make a difference, as individuals with light-pigmented eyes are more likely to develop AMD, due to having less protection from sun damage.
- Inactivity from lack of exercise can lead to deterioration of the retina, due to inadequate oxygen levels.
Although there are some risk factors, such as genetics and family history, that you simply cannot control, there are prevention methods that you and your loved ones can take to help not only your eye health, but your overall health as well!
- No Smoking! This is the most important step. If you are a smoker, do yourself a huge favor by quitting…today! Encourage your family members to quit as well!
- Diet – According to the Macular Degeneration Partnership, a diet high in vegetables, particularly dark green, leafy vegetables, and fruit have a lower incidence of AMD. They also recommend eating fish three times per week, and avoiding saturated fats.
- Exercise – It’s the best way to pump oxygen through your body! Increased oxygen equals healthy retinas! Encourage your loved one to move around as much as possible to a level that is comfortable for them.
- Regular Eye Exams – Be proactive about eye health, and catch any potential problems before they can cause irreparable damage!
- Wear Sunglasses – Protect your eyes from harmful UV rays that can cause eye damage.
- Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol – Have your loved one’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked often.
- Supplements – Talk to your loved one’s doctor about adding a multivitamin, fish oil supplement, or other supplements for eye health they might recommend, into their daily routine.
We cannot take our vision for granted! While AMD is a reality for many senior citizens, you can help them to protect their gift of sight for as long as possible with the steps above!
Harmony is founded with a single focus in mind: providing compassionate home care and home healthcare to the residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Our trustworthy caregivers are ready to lend a helping hand to your mother, father, children, and loved ones in Indiana County, Westmoreland County, Cambria County, and many more locations throughout the region. Contact us and one of our patient advocates will be happy to discuss how Harmony's programs can help your family today.