The Eyes Have It—Macular Degeneration
Loss of vision, a devastating blow.
If eyes are the window to the soul, some of us are in trouble. When we speak to another person we gather information about them from their eyes. What happens when you can’t see? Not only are you not able to see another person’s eyes, your eyes no longer give the same clues.
Chances are, if you care for an elderly person, they may suffer from AMD (age-related macular degeneration). AMD is the main cause of vision loss in adults over age 60 in this country.
How Can We Help Our Elders Maintain Their Vision?
- Regular eye examinations
- Know the risk factors
- Be sure you and your elder wears hats and/or sunglasses when in bright sunlight–UV ray’s harm your eyes
- Exercise and eat healthy (we just can’t get away from it). Eat green leafy vegetables and yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, and fish.
- Don’t smoke!
- Maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Your retina needs oxygenated blood to stay healthy. Sensitive eye tissue isn’t happy if it doesn’t get enough oxygen. That’s why smoking increases your risk of AMD by anywhere from 2-5 times over that of a non-smoker. Smoking narrows your arteries. Arteries clogged with plaque deprive tissue of oxygen. When a healthy person exercises, their blood delivers more oxygen to all parts of the body. You begin to see the reasons for the above list.
The exact cause of AMD is unknown. Obviously, age is a main risk factor. Hereditary is another. Both my parents suffer from the disease, so my risk is higher. My mom sees nothing but shadows. She has some peripheral vision, but not much. My dad is in the mid-stages of the disease. He’s having surgery to improve his vision next month. (More about that later.) The main risk factors are age, smoking, race and genetics/heredity. Caucasians have a higher risk, especially those with a light eye color. Women have a higher risk than men.
Can It Be Treated?
There are two types of AMD, wet and dry. Wet progresses faster, dry slower. In wet AMD, clumps of blood vessels form beneath the retina. They leak blood and fluids that damage the eye. In dry AMD, cells in the macula break down and scar.
There are treatments but they only slow the progress, they don’t cure it. Only a retinal specialist (an ophthalmologist with a specialty in retina and macular disorders) can recommend your best options.
My dad’s AMD is dry. It can’t be treated. He also has vitreomacular traction syndrome–basically wrinkles in the cortex as the membrane pulls away from the retina. He will have surgery to smooth it out. It won’t help his AMD, which will continue to progress, but will allow him to read again in his eye less affected by AMD.
According to the American Academy of Opthomology, research shows:
People with AMD may be able to slow the progression of the disease by taking a special nutrient supplement called the AREDS 2 formula, developed as a result of the AREDS2 research (a follow-up to the study described above). The formula includes:
◦ Vitamin C (500 mg);
◦ Vitamin E (400 IU);
◦ Lutein (10 mg);
◦ Zeaxanthin (2 mg);
◦ Zinc oxide (80 mg); and
◦ Copper oxide (2 mg).
Again, it’s not a cure. It won’t prevent it but may slow it down. Like chicken soup, it can’t hurt. Read the labels, though, they aren’t all the same. There are specific reasons for the amounts and types of vitamins included. If you want to read the details, an article for the public is found here:
The video below shows the eye structure and how AMD affects vision. It also shows how those with the condition see things. I think it’s helpful because if you notice signs of the vision shown, you can see your doctor right away to try to stop the progression.
My mom’s life was, and is, severely changed by her vision loss. Her final loss of vision occurred very quickly during a cross-country flight. It was a dramatic and sudden loss. When she got on the plane she could read her ticket, when she got off, she couldn’t. Imagine not being able to read or see people’s faces. We depend on visual cues, reading expressions and body language to understand meaning in communication.
I love to read. I’d be sad to lose that ability but if I couldn’t read mail, food labels or prescription bottles, I couldn’t live independently. My mom never knows who’s talking to her. She can’t see faces. It has hampered her socially. She’s embarrassed when people speak to her and she has no idea who they are. When she still attended church, it made her anxious. She was reluctant to attend social events after that.
If you’re dealing with someone with a severe vision loss, you might try what helps my mom. She does best if, when you speak to her, call her name, and immediately tell her your name. If you gently touch her arm or shoulder shortly after introducing yourself, it calms her, lets her know where you are, and that you’re still communicating with her. Saying goodbye when you leave her orbit is good so she doesn’t end up talking to empty space.
Our eyes are amazing organs. We get such joy from so many things we see, nature, the faces or our grandchildren, all the information available visually. It’s well worth the effort to do our best to protect our precious eyesight.