Many senior citizens over the age of 65 suffer with a vision disorder called age-related macular degeneration. The progressive disease attacks the center portion of the retina in the area of the eye that produces the sharpest vision. Risk for this disease, also called AMD, increases with age and is most often the cause of vision loss in older individuals.
Facts About Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in those over 65 years of age.
The symptoms of AMD are not the same as those seen with glaucoma. AMD attacks the central vision first and affects the individual’s ability to recognize faces, read and drive.
Nine out of ten people with macular degeneration have the dry form of the disease. This means the macula is free of newly formed leaky blood vessels, a condition called neovascularization. The dry form can transform into wet form AMD or remain dry for the rest of an individual’s life. Doctors do not know what triggers the change.
When waste builds up in the eye, yellow deposits, or drusen, appear in the macular region. The appearance of these deposits indicates the waste removal system is failing. As waste accumulates, the cones and rods responsible for sensing light die off and vision is impaired. These cells are irreplaceable once they are gone. Physicians can diagnose dry AMD when they see this build up in the eye.
Individuals with dry AMD lose vision gradually. The wet form of the disease progresses more quickly and the vision loss is often more noticeable.
While there is no known treatment for dry AMD, a recent study revealed that people with moderate to advanced stages of the disease realized some benefit when taking vitamins E, C and A. The progression of the disease also slowed when patients took these supplements. Results from the second phase of the study will be released soon.
Intermediate Dry AMD
The wet form of the disease is more serious because profound vision loss can occur very quickly. Blood vessels grow throughout the macular area. Healthy vessels remove waste and deliver nutrients to the eye but these vessels are not healthy and they leak. This allows protein and blood to escape into the retina and do more damage.
Early stages of neovascularization are not always visible and that makes wet AMD difficult to diagnose. A Fluoroscein Angiography is a test that utilizes a special dye. When injected into the arm, the dye flows to the blood vessels in the eye. This makes the leaky vessels stand out. Another type of test uses Indocyanine Green dye. The physician will choose the test that best suits the patient.
Patients have a few options available for wet AMD treatments and can find out more about them. The most common treatment are monthly/bimonthly injections of Anti-VEGF drugs like Macugen, Lucentis and Avastin. They work by targeting the factor responsible for stimulating growth of new leaky blood vessels.
Coping and Support
Individuals with macular degeneration can still lead a productive life with various techniques and devices designed to maximize the remaining vision. A low vision specialist is trained to help patients deal with vision loss and learn how to increase quality of life. Low vision rehabilitation should be a collaborative effort between an occupational therapist, a low vision specialist and the patient’s regular doctor. The rehab program must be tailored specifically to the patient and take into consideration individual limitations and skills. People living with macular degeneration do not have to suffer with a low quality of life. There are ways to overcome vision loss and professionals who are ready to help individuals overcome this disability and live a full life.
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