We may have seen it with our parents but it can happen to us too! Nearly 75 percent of Americans still don’t know AMD is the leading cause of legal blindness in older adults according to a new survey. That is despite recent projections estimating that in the U.S. individuals with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will reach 20 million in 2020.
Further, the survey found that 43% of Americans age 65 years or older (nearly 20 million Americans) have or know someone with AMD and find themselves assisting them frequently. This supports studies finding that people living with advanced AMD may need assistance nearly four hours per day, five days per week. Spouses or adult children provide 72 percent of that care. It’s extremely common for older adults’ vision to decline, which dramatically impacts the ability to be independent and active.
What is AMD?
AMD is a progressive disease that damages the macula, the area of the eye responsible for central or“straight-ahead” vision. While AMD does not affect the outer circle of peripheral vision, meaning aperson will always be able to see things to the side, this vision is too blurry to make up for lost central vision. Over time, central vision becomes blurred, distorted or, in some cases, completely blocked. Dry AMD progresses more slowly and is more common. Wet AMD, caused by leaking blood vessels that damage the macula, progresses more quickly, but is only diagnosed in 10 percent of all AMD patients.
AMD can lead to severe and permanent central vision “blind spots” in both eyes in the most advanced form, end-stage AMD. People living with end-stage AMD find it difficult or impossible to recognize faces, read, watch TV or complete tasks requiring detailed vision. The condition is also associated with increased stress and depression as vision diminishes.
Prevention, Treatment and Assistance
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to completely prevent the development of AMD, but older adults can reduce their risk by avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and eating a healthy diet with green leafy vegetables and fish.
Despite there being no cure for AMD, it can be managed. An ophthalmologist may recommend treatments ranging from vitamins, drug or laser therapy, or, even a tiny FDA-approved surgical implant for those patients who have progressed to the most advanced form of the disease.
How can you help a loved one better manage living with AMD day-to-day?
1. Initiate dialogue – Make a list of questions for your doctor about your specific diagnosis and available treatments
2. Make lifestyle changes – Quitting smoking, losing weight and watching your blood pressure can help reduce the risk of AMD progression; simple changes like adjusting lighting and investing in an e-reader (that allows for larger print) can make daily life easier
3. Discuss driving – Have a serious conversation with your family and physician about whether driving is safe for you and other people on the road
4. Research options – Learn more about the latest treatments, such as the telescope implant for those with the severest form of AMD.
5. Find support – There are local low vision resource centers, such as Lions Club International, and national AMD awareness groups across the country and online, such as BrightFocus Foundation, Macular Degeneration Foundation and the National Eye Institute. AMDAffectsMe.com is another resource that provides education about age-related macular degeneration and treatment options.
Patients who lose central vision may feel like their independence is impacted if they need to ask for help signing checks, making selections at the grocery store or even recognizing grandchildren. As a result, adults with AMD are at higher risk for depression as their vision diminishes, which is why it’s important to develop an individualized management plan that incorporates a range of treatment and caregiving strategies.