This month has been declared age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the leading source of vision loss for seniors. Macular degeneration often leads to low vision, a phrase eye doctors use to refer to substantial vision loss that is sometimes known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the area of the retina which enables clear vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a blurring of central vision, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss from AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but on occasion disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of vision impairment from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or unusually distorted sight. Although there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and treatment can halt progression of the disease and subsequently avoid vision loss. For those who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include individuals over 65, females, Caucasians and people with blue eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and obesity. Paying attention to overall physical health and a proper diet has been shown to be preventative.
Individuals who are living with low vision should speak to their eye doctor about low vision training and specialized equipment that can enable a return to daily activities. After a proper examination, a low vision professional can help you obtain suitable low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive devices such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Although AMD is more common in the elderly, it can affect anyone and therefore it is important for every individual to schedule a yearly eye exam to determine eye health and learn about preventative measures for AMD and low vision.