(BPT) - Silver screen icon Bette Davis once famously pronounced "getting old ain't for sissies." Caring for yourself or a loved one with age-related health issues is no picnic, either. Of all the health issues you may face as you age, vision problems can be particularly devastating. Yet, a new study reveals that many people still don't understand the leading cause of legal blindness for older Americans - a condition that could seriously affect their quality of life.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans aged 60 and older, affecting an estimated 15 million people, according to Macular Degeneration Partnership. Prevent Blindness America estimates that 2 million Americans are living with an advanced form, or end-stage macular degeneration, where central vision is completely blocked in both eyes and that number is expected to increase as the baby boomer cohort ages. Damage to the macula - the part of the retina that perceives color and fine detail - results in the inability to see images in straight-ahead vision, and, therefore, affects a person's ability to read, drive, watch TV, focus on small objects, and even see the faces of family and friends.
Despite the prevalence of macular degeneration - more than 40 percent of older Americans have it or know someone who does - three out of four people don't know it's the leading cause of blindness in people older than 60, according to an awareness survey by Wakefield Research. What's more, 66 percent say they aren't confident they could care for a loved one if he or she developed AMD.
As macular degeneration worsens and vision diminishes, the need for caregiving increases. In fact, more than a third (35 percent) of people who know someone with macular degeneration say they frequently assist the patient, the survey found.
"As their visual acuity decreases, AMD patients may feel the need to ask for help with tasks of daily living, such as shopping, writing checks, or reading menus, hinders their independence," says Dr. Mark Milner, associate clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, and the co-founder and co-medical director of the Eye Center of Southern Connecticut and Precision LASIK Group. "This puts them at higher risk of feeling depressed, and makes it critical for patients, their caregivers and their physicians to develop an individualized management plan that incorporates a range of treatment and caregiving strategies."
As the need for care increases, the patient becomes more at risk of developing depression and anxiety, a study in Clinical Ophthalmology found.
Milner offers some tips for people with AMD and their caregivers:
*Make the most of every dialogue with your doctor. Prepare a list of questions to discuss, asking about your specific diagnosis and available treatments
*While there is no cure for AMD, lifestyle changes may help slow its progression. If you smoke, quit. Try to lose weight if you need to, and monitor your blood pressure. Be sure to talk to your doctor about these health concerns, too. Simple changes like adjusting lighting and investing in an e-reader that allows you to enlarge print can also make everyday life easier.
* Have a serious conversation with your doctor and your family about whether it's still safe for you to drive.
* Seek support. You can find low-vision resource centers and AMD awareness groups across the country. Online resources like the new website, AMDAffectsMe.com, sponsored by CentraSight, can offer comprehensive information about how AMD is diagnosed and treated, as well as stories from caregivers assisting their loved ones living with end-stage AMD.
* Research the latest treatments. Medical science is always making progress toward treating incurable conditions like AMD. For example, an FDA-approved and Medicare-eligible surgical device is available for patients today living with the most advanced form of the disease. The implant magnifies images approximately three times their size onto the healthy portion of the retina, enabling patients to discern the object of interest. To learn more about the implant, visit www.CentraSight.com or call 1-877-99-SIGHT.
"As you grow older, it's important to monitor your vision health, since the early and intermediate stages of macular degeneration usually have no symptoms," says Dr. Samuel Masket, a clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Only a comprehensive, dilated eye exam can detect AMD. The good news is that preventive and treatment options for patients with macular degeneration have advanced remarkably just in the past 10 years. Now these patients may be able to improve their vision and maintain as much of their independence as possible."
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