Some degree of vision loss is typical with older age, and it can range in severity and effects. Macular degeneration is one form of vision loss that can have a significant impact on daily living and independence. Understanding macular degeneration and the effects it has on vision can help seniors and their caregivers watch out for early signs and know how to proceed in terms of seeking support.
Located at the back of the eye is a component of the eye known as the macula, which is a part of the retina. The macula is responsible for helping us see things that require precision focus for fine details. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a condition of the eye that impacts the macula and is common in people over the age of 50.
Under the umbrella of AMD, there are two different types: Dry and Wet.
The vast majority of cases of macular degeneration are of the dry variety, which involves a breakdown of the photo receptor cells on the retina due to an accumulation of protein deposits call drusen. Components of the macula gradually become thinner and seniors with dry macular degeneration slowly lose central vision causing small details to become distorted and more challenging to see.
Wet macular degeneration is less common than dry, but can have more serious outcomes. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in a fine layer of cells within the macula (known as the Choroid). Vision loss with wet macular degeneration can be severe, as leakage of protein and blood cause significant blurring and distortion.
In some cases, dry macular degeneration can develop into wet, so it is always important to consult a healthcare professional to address symptoms early and make sure proper attention is being paid to eye health.
People aged 60 and over are at an increased risk of developing macular degeneration. Macular degeneration also tends to run in families (at the level of immediate relatives), so knowing your parents’ or siblings’ history of vision problems and sharing that information with healthcare professionals can be important for assessing risk factors.
The initial symptoms that come along with the development of macular degeneration tend to come in the form of visual distortions that make things look a little wonky, such as wavy lines and blurring of details. It is not always easy to recognize the onset of AMD as changes in vision tend to develop gradually.
It is incredibly important to note that macular degeneration is not associated with any pain, so seniors should always make sure that they are seeing their doctor regularly, and getting routine eye checks, rather than waiting for vision problems to manifest.
Everyone’s experience with macular degeneration will be different and the speed and ways in which the condition progresses will be specific to each person. Learning to live with macular degeneration requires some adjustments, and as the condition continues to impact the eyes, many seniors can end with permanent vision loss or become legally blind. Adjusting to changes in vision can be a challenge as seniors learn to navigate which things they can still easily do alone. and which things now require a bit of assistance.
Currently there is no cure for AMD, but there are treatments that can help to slow the progression of the condition. Speaking to a healthcare professional can illuminate the options that might be possible to minimize vision damage.
Being open and discussing concerns and developments with family members, caregivers, and a healthcare professional can help seniors better adjust to the new realities that accompany impaired vision.
In attempting to prevent eye conditions such as macular degeneration, there are some general lifestyle choices that can help promote better eye-health.
Staying vigilant about eye care and making choices that aim to promote healthy vision can help to keep seniors eyes healthy and functioning at optimal levels.