Macular Degeneration

Even with no other physical or mental handicaps, your eyes are vital for staying independent and performing daily activities. Macular degeneration (MD) is a serious concern for the elderly as the disease becomes more likely the more we age.

Even with no other problems, macular degeneration can force people into a nursing home due to their failing eyesight. The disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. There is presently no cure and the disease can only be slowed. Lifestyle can, however, reduce the chance of MD occurring in you.

What is it

Age related MD is essentially the breakdown of Macula functioning. The Macula is responsible for central vision, recognising faces and to see colours clearly. It is a part of the retina where light information is transformed into signals for our brains to process. Two types of Macular Degeneration exist. The dry and wet forms. The dry form occurs gradually over time while the wet form occurs suddenly due to abnormal blood vessels growing into the retina.

Risk Factors

  •  Being over 50
  • Smoking
  • Diet and Obesity
  • Genetics and family history

Symptoms

Early stage MD is diagnosed via the presence of yellow deposits beneath the retina. Intermediate MD may feature some vision loss, larger deposits and/or pigment changes in the retina. These pigment changes do not refer to eye colour and can only be examined via an eye exam. Later stages of MD feature significant and noticeable vision loss.

Progression of central vision failure during MD

Prevention

 Regular eye exams as we age as well as being informed about our families history of diseases can give you or a family member early warning of MD. Checks become exceedingly important after 50 where the likelihood increases significantly. In addition, lifestyle variables can reduce the likelihood of MD occurring. Not smoking and incorporating specific eye nutrition advice can be extremely beneficial. Antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Selenium and Omega-3 Fatty acids are all recommended to prevent onset of MD. Maintaining a normal weight and avoiding obesity induced diabetes will also help.

 Current developments in bionic eye technology may also assist or cure the condition in the future. Prototypes have already shown improvements in some forms of blindness and macular degeneration is also thought to be treatable with the technology. US company Second Sight has developed the Argus Retinal Prosthesis System which has already been tested in several patients including a 80 year old man with age related MD. The device has provided an increase in useful vision according to studies. The Macular Disease Foundation Australia described the recent developments as extremely promising. They caution however, that a truly effective and affordable bionic eye is still quite far away.

 Taking care of your eyes as you age is still the best method to avoid macular degeneration. Your eyesight and mobility are extremely important in order to stay independent and healthy for as long as possible.