Unfortunately, for many Americans (one in three over the age of 70), growing older is linked to macular degeneration – vision loss caused by the deterioration of the macula in the retina.
Blood vessels that feed the macula either constrict or leak, interfering with blood flow. The result is loss of central vision.
But this isn’t blindness. Peripheral vision is still intact, so an older person with this condition might appear to be looking at your ear when addressing you.
This condition can lead to legal blindness… and loss of driving privileges.
Sufferers also can no longer distinguish letters and numbers, forcing them to find adaptations in order to read.
Simply using a magnifying glass often does the trick. Others use tiny (thumbnail size) telescopes to read signs when out and about.
An optical-to-text machine can read print and turn into speech. And there are always books on tape.
Macular degeneration is considered an incurable disease but treatment exists. At Dr. Rick Graebe’s office in Versailles, Dr. Regina Callihan specializes in low-vision therapy.
Key techniques include light therapy and micro-current where electrodes stimulate the retina.
Recently, surgical advances have shown promise, Dr. Graebe said.
“These procedures involve injections in the eye, which sounds a lot worse than it is,” he said.
“The surgeries have been effective in slowing down the progression of the disease, but it’s important to see a retina specialist.”
Short of a cure, people can help prevent the disease through early detection and lifestyle changes.
Currently, the most effective method of determining macular determination risk is with optical coherence tomography, a technology that Dr. Graebe has used in his office for the past five years.
If test results show a patient is at risk, lifestyle changes can improve outcomes more than waiting until a crisis hits.
Dr. Graebe and other experts recommend vitamin supplements such as Lutein, zinc and Zeaxanthin that delay the onset of the disease.
Other changes include the cessation of smoking, a low-carbohydrate diet and plenty of exercise. All three stimulate blood flow.
The equation is simple: the steadier the blood flow, the less risk of low vision.