February has been announced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss for seniors. Macular degeneration is one of the causes of low vision, a term eye doctors use to categorize substantial visual impairment that is sometimes known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, impairment is caused to the macula, the area of the retina which enables sharp central vision. The disease causes a disruption in or blurring of central vision, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely impairment can be sudden. Early symptoms of vision loss from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or very distorted vision. Although there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and treatment can stop advancement of the degeneration and subsequently thwart vision loss. For individuals who have already experienced vision loss, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and people with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, hypertension, exposure to ultraviolet light and inactivity. Paying attention to overall physical health and a proper diet has been determined to be preventative.
Individuals who are living with low vision should consult with their optometrist about low vision rehabilitation and special devices that can support a return to daily activities. After an extensive examination, a low vision specialist can suggest suitable low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
Although macular degeneration is more common in seniors, it can affect anyone and therefore it is important for everyone to schedule a regular eye exam to determine eye health and discuss ways to prevent AMD and low vision.