February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the foremost cause of visual impairment for senior citizens. AMD is one of the causes of low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to refer to significant vision loss that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which produces sharp central vision. The disease causes a blurring of the central vision zone, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss from age-related macular degeneration usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but occasionally disruptions in vision can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early signs of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually distorted vision. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early diagnosis and attention is known to stop progression of the degeneration and therefore thwart vision loss. For those who have already experienced vision loss, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, women, Caucasians and people with blue eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Controllable risk factors include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and obesity. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients can reduce your risk.
Individuals who are living with low vision should consult with an eye care professional about low vision training and specialized equipment that can enable a return to favorite activities. After an extensive eye exam, a low vision specialist can help you obtain suitable low vision aids such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive devices such as electronic "talking" clocks and large-face printed material.
Although macular degeneration is more likely in those over age 65, anyone can be affected and therefore it is recommended for everyone to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and discuss preventative measures for AMD and low vision.