February is dedicated to creating awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one cause of blindness for seniors. Macular degeneration often results in low vision, a phrase optometrists use to categorize major visual impairment that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a degenerative eye disease, impairment occurs to the macula, the part of the retina which enables sharp vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a blurring of the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Low vision from AMD is usually gradual but occasionally vision loss can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of vision impairment from AMD include blurred areas in your central vision or very distorted sight. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early diagnosis and attention can halt progression of the degeneration and subsequently thwart low vision. For individuals who have already suffered from vision impairment, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include individuals over 65, women, Caucasians and individuals with light eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and being overweight. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Individuals who are living with low vision should speak to their eye care professional about low vision training and specialized devices that can support a return to daily activities. After an extensive assessment, a low vision specialist can prescribe helpful low vision aids such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Although macular degeneration is more likely in the elderly, anyone can be affected and therefore it is wise for everyone to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and learn about ways to prevent this and other serious eye diseases.