Macular degeneration is a common disease for seniors. It’s the most frequent cause of vision loss in the elderly, and is often referred to as”Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)” as a result. The number of Canadians affected by AMD is expected to increase as the senior population grows in the coming years.
What Causes AMD?
Macular Degeneration is the deterioration of the macula, a part of the retina in the eyes. This leads to a communication issue between the optic nerve and the tissues, causing a distortion or dimming effect in a senior’s vision. It can occur in one or both eyes.
There are two main forms of Macular Degeneration:
- Dry form; This is the most common form, affecting 80-90% of seniors with AMD. Over time, it begins to affect vision more seriously, making it difficult to recognize faces, drive, and read/write. The dry form can also lead to the wet form of the disease.
- Wet form; While not as common as the dry form, the wet form is much more severe. It’s caused by blood vessels leaking fluid into the eyes, causing blind spots and possibly total loss of vision. While the dry form develops slowly over the course of years, the wet form of AMD can lead to a rapid loss of sight, sometimes taking place within just days of a diagnosis.
What Are the Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
As the name implies, being above the age of 55 is the largest risk factor for developing this disease. However, there are other possible risk factors, including:
- Being a smoker;
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension);
- Having a family history of AMD;
- Having diabetes;
- Being Caucasian;
- Being female;
- Having light-coloured eyes;
- Being inactive.
What Are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
It may take time for symptoms to develop. Oftentimes, the symptoms won’t be apparent until the disease has begun to affect one’s vision.
Symptoms can include:
- Dark areas that block out the center of vision, sometimes increasing in size over time;
- Difficulty reading in darker areas;
- Straight lines appearing distorted;
- Blurry, fuzzy overall vision;
- Reduction in an ability to differentiate colours.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Macular Degeneration can only be detected through a dilated eye exam. Sometimes, a doctor will be able to see pigment clumping or other visual signs of AMD when examining your eyes. A visual acuity test may be performed as well, or you may be asked to look at an Amsler grid, a series of straight lines that will appear wavy for someone with Macular Degeneration. It’s important for a diagnosis to be made early on, as treatment can slow the exacerbation of the disease.
How is Macular Degeneration Treated?
After visiting your eye doctor, they will likely discuss various treatment options with you. Currently, there is no cure for AMD. However, some investigational drugs and surgeries have been shown to help slow or prevent further vision loss in seniors with Macular Degeneration.
Some available medical treatments and surgical procedures include:
- Anti angiogenic drugs, such as Lucentis, Macugen, et cetera;
- Laser therapy;
- Submacular surgery;
- Macular Translocation.
These surgical procedures will not cure the disease, but they may help slow the progression or prevent an increase in severity. Your optometrist may also recommend you get a low-vision optical device.
Doctors occasionally prescribe certain vitamins, as some have been shown to decrease the risk of vision loss in elderly people suffering from Macular Degeneration. According to research by the National Eye Institute, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, beta-carotene, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin have shown positive effects in seniors with AMD.
Living With AMD
Most seniors with Macular Degeneration will not lose their vision entirely, unless they develop the wet form of the disease. However, some normal, daily tasks may become difficult, especially as the condition progresses and the elderly person’s vision becomes worse. If you have an elderly loved one suffering from AMD, consider hiring a professional caregiver to assist them with their everyday activities, like housekeeping, driving, grocery shopping, cooking, etc.
Please contact Complete Care Coordination today for a free consultation on home care assistance for seniors.