Learn About Age-Related Macular Degeneration
May is both Healthy Vision Month and Older Americans Month—a great time to learn how vision problems can affect older adults and what they can do to keep their eyes healthy. Many older adults think vision loss is just a normal part of aging, but it doesn’t have to be. You can take many steps to reduce your risk of vision loss by learning about age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Meet Mary and James
This is Mary and her husband James. They are both 70 years old. About 5 years ago, Mary found she had a hard time reading the newspaper in low light, and sometimes the lines seemed a little distorted. She didn’t worry about it much at the time. However, recently she was reading her favorite book and noticed the middle of the page had become blurry. She knew this was a bad sign and asked James to take her to her doctor, who referred Mary to an eye doctor.
The eye doctor quickly diagnosed Mary with the dry form of AMD. Mary remembered her father losing vision in one eye, but she had not thought about this family history before. Mary’s children are now aware of the family history too and have been encouraged by their doctor to avoid smoking, which significantly increases the risk of developing AMD and many other serious health conditions. Although Mary can no longer drive and has some problems with day-to-day activities because of AMD, she has found new and creative ways to keep doing some of the activities she most enjoys. She uses a magnifying glass with a light for reading and has downloaded software to her computer that makes the text on her screen bigger. Mary learned there is no single proven treatment for the dry form of AMD, but her eye doctor recommended she take antioxidant vitamins and zinc, which can slow the progress of the disease to more advanced stages, when she might need vision rehabilitation.
More About AMD
AMD is a major cause of blindness worldwide and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for Americans aged 65 years and older. The number of older Americans is projected to nearly double from 48 million to 88 million in 2050. As Mary's story shows, AMD destroys the sharp, central vision needed to see clearly. This loss can affect daily activities like reading text on the computer, phone, or newspaper; driving; and watching television. Here are some facts about AMD:
- AMD comes in both wet and dry forms.
- The wet type is the more advanced and damaging form.
- Most dry forms of AMD do not progress to the wet form, but the wet form can lead to severe and permanent loss of central vision.
- If AMD does progress to the wet stage, therapies such as injections and laser treatments can help.
- People with a family history of AMD are at greater risk of AMD.1
- AMD affects whites more often than other races and ethnicities, such as African Americans and Hispanics.2
- Smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are risk factors for AMD.3,4
What You Can Do
Mary didn’t remember that her father lost vision in one eye until after she had vision problems of her own. Telling your eye doctor about your family history and getting regular eye exams can help you find out about the disease early, when treatments can be most effective. Quitting smoking, or never starting, is an important way to prevent AMD. Having a healthy lifestyle and lowering cholesterol can help lower your risk for AMD and also help prevent the dry form of the disease from progressing to the wet form, which can cause permanent vision loss.
The Age-Related Disease Studies found that getting certain vitamins and minerals every day may slow the progression of the disease from the early or middle stages to the later stages. Specifically, combinations of the following vitamins can reduce risk of late AMD by 25%:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Green, leafy vegetables have large amounts of many of these vitamins.
If AMD progresses to later stages, your eye doctor may use other therapies, such as injections and laser treatment.
If vision loss does occur, there are vision rehabilitation services and devices to help you use your remaining vision as well as you can. Speak to your eye doctor about new technologies such as magnifiers and telescopic glasses, and seek out resources for low vision in your area.
Healthy Vision Month is a great time to think about your risk for eye problems such as AMD. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of having a healthy lifestyle and scheduling comprehensive eye exams to help prevent permanent vision loss. Take a tip from Mary and don’t wait! Take action now!
- Cheng, Q. (2014). Age-related Macular Degeneration and Vascular and Renal Comorbidities in Adults Aged 40 Years or Older: NHANES 2005-2008.
- Lim, L. S., Mitchell, P., Seddon, J. M., Holz, F. G., & Wong, T. Y. (2012). Age-related macular degeneration. The Lancet, 379(9827), 1728-1738.
- Wu, J., Uchino, M., Sastry, S. M., & Schaumberg, D. A. (2014). Age-related macular degeneration and the incidence of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 9(3), e89600.
- Fisher, D. E., Klein, B. E., Wong, T. Y., Rotter, J. I., Li, X., Shrager, S., ... & Cotch, M. F. (2016). Incidence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration in a Multi-Ethnic United States Population: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Ophthalmology.