Seeing Past Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Have you noticed your vision changing as you age? Do you need brighter light to do close-up work? Are you having difficulty reading or are you struggling with blurry vision? Loss of eyesight is a common concern for older adults. And there is no greater concern than the all-too-common risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
AMD is an eye disease that accounts for 50% to 60% of blindness and is the leading source of vision loss in people 50 years and older. The most severe forms of AMD lead to impairment of your central vision, so treatment and management are essential to slow the progression of the disease. Read on to learn more about the causes and treatments for AMD.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
AMD occurs when there is deterioration of the macula at the back of the eye, which disrupts the brain’s ability to read images. There are two types of AMD: dry (atrophic) and wet (advanced neovascular). The most common form of age-related macular degeneration is dry AMD, accounting for as many as 90% of all cases. In dry AMD, cells of the macula begin to deteriorate, and over many years, the retinal cells stop renewing and die off. Wet AMD is less frequent, accounting for 10% to 15% of AMD cases. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels leak into the macula, causing it to build or lift, distorting or destroying central vision.
What Are the Signs of AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration often develops gradually over several years. It may not produce early signs in the preliminary stages. But as it advances, you may notice a loss of sharp vision in the center of your field of vision, making it difficult to read, drive or recognize faces. The first sign of macular degeneration is often seen as a spot in the center of your vision that you may notice when reading or watching television. As the disease progresses, the spot gets larger, reducing your central vision.
Over time, people with AMD lose their ability to see fine details, and central vision becomes blurry and distorted. Age-related macular degeneration symptoms include:
Straight lines appearing wavy
Difficulty seeing in dim light
Who Is Most at Risk for AMD?
The precise cause of age-related macular degeneration is unknown, and there is no cure. Heredity is a risk factor, and AMD does run in families. Smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure can be associated with the development of AMD. People are most at risk for developing AMD after age 60; however, it can occur earlier for some individuals.
How Is AMD Diagnosed?
Early detection is one of the most important factors in treating age-related macular degeneration. The presence of drusen, yellow deposits in the retina, is one sign that’s easily visible to your doctor during an eye exam. Another diagnostic tool is the Amsler grid. It tests for how well you can see a pattern of straight lines. If you look at the grid and see wavy instead of straight lines, you could have AMD. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an imaging test that enables your doctor to see changes in the retinal layers that may indicate damage or disease in your eyes. Other AMD diagnostic tests include:
Visual acuity test: This is an exam using an eye chart to measure distance vision.
Pupil dilation: Eyedrops are used to widen the pupil for close examination of the retina.
Fluorescein angiography: An injected dye that passes through blood vessels to identify leaking vessels in the retina is used.
Can AMD Be Treated?
There is currently no treatment for dry AMD, but your doctor might recommend nutritional supplements to help slow the progression. If you have the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, you have a few different treatment options, including injections and laser surgery. The primary treatment for wet macular degeneration is injections into the eye to slow down or stop the progression of the disease. These injections deliver anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor) medications to shrink existing blood vessels and prevent the growth of new ones. Injections are done about every four to six weeks, depending on your treatment plan.
Laser surgery can also be used to target and treat leaky blood vessels. Not everyone is a good candidate for laser treatment of AMD, and your doctor can determine whether your wet AMD can be treated with laser surgery. New treatments are on the horizon, including promising research on retinal cell transplants and gene therapies.
Will I Lose My Vision With AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration rarely causes complete blindness, but your loss of central vision can become so severe that you’re considered legally blind. AMD affects everyone differently, and the progression of the disease will be unique to you. If you are diagnosed with AMD, you can use visual aids to try to improve your vision. For example, you can use eyeglasses, increase light in your environment, and read with a magnifying glass. You can also improve your diet to include antioxidants and omega-3 foods, as well as vitamins and minerals to improve your eye health.
You can continue to live a healthy and active life even with an AMD diagnosis. Support groups can help you cope with the emotional stress and anxiety associated with an AMD diagnosis. And, an occupational therapist or certified low-vision specialist can help you with vision rehabilitation so you can learn new ways to do things as your vision changes.
Find Age-Friendly Care Where You Live
Age-friendly Health Care is care that addresses your unique needs and wants. It can help you enjoy a better quality of life with the care that is safe and based on what research shows are the most important things to pay attention to as we get older, the 4Ms for healthy aging: what Matters most to you, the Medication you take and how it impacts your wellbeing, Mentation (that’s your mood and memory) and your Mobility, which is so crucial for maintaining your health and independence. Did you know that more and more health systems are offering Age-Friendly Care? Learn about Age-Friendly Health Care and where you can find it at AgeFriendly.org.
THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.