February is dedicated to creating awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the foremost cause of visual impairment for seniors. AMD is one of the causes of low vision, a phrase eye doctors use to refer to significant vision loss that is sometimes known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a progressive eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which enables clear central vision. The disease causes a blurring of central vision, but typically doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Vision loss due to AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely vision loss can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early signs of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or very fuzzy sight. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early diagnosis and attention is known to slow progression of the degeneration and therefore prevent vision impairment. For those who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eyes, severe farsightedness or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and inactivity. Maintaining overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Those who suffer from low vision should consult with their eye care professional about low vision training and specialized devices that can enable independence. After a proper assessment, a low vision specialist can prescribe suitable low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
While AMD is more common in seniors, it can affect anyone and therefore it is wise for every individual to have a regular eye exam to determine eye health and learn about ways to prevent AMD and low vision.