What Seniors Should Know About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Month.

Many eye diseases are treatable if diagnosed early enough. But often, the damage from eye disease happens slowly, so a person doesn’t notice a loss of vision until it is too late. Vision loss can lead to depression, inactivity and overall decline in seniors.

The top cause of impaired eyesight in older adults is age-related macular degeneration. With the aging of our population, protecting against this vision-destroying condition is vital to keeping our senior population as independent and healthy as possible.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the deterioration of the center area of the retina of the eye. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that transmits images to the brain through the optic nerve. The center area of the retina, called the macula, is responsible for the sharp central vision we use for reading, driving, working a puzzle, sewing and so many other tasks.

There are two forms of macular degeneration:

Dry AMD occurs when the tissue of the retina thins and deteriorates. The light-sensitive cells break down, and central vision gradually becomes blurred. Dry AMD is associated with the appearance of drusen, small yellow deposits under the retina.

Wet AMD, also called neovascular AMD, is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina. These new vessels are very delicate, and begin to leak blood and fluid behind the retina. This damage can occur quickly.

What causes AMD?

The causes of AMD are not entirely understood. But we know that the thinning of the macula and the development of abnormal blood vessels behind the retina are, in part, the result of wear and tear on our body systems. Indeed, age is the top risk factor for developing AMD. Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, race (Caucasians are at highest risk), smoking, and medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and certain immune disorders.