Eyes get worse with age.
I used to have fantastic vision. In fact, it was so good, I remember as a 20 year old trainee, teasing those who were old (well, 40 year olds) about their funny glasses and rapidly failing vision! Then in due course, I turned 40. Every day since then, I’ve worn glasses. The original ones were just for reading but because I was afraid of losing them, I got bifocals. Then I got progressive lenses and over time, the lenses got stronger and stronger. They told me that was normal ageing of the lenses in my eyes and their ability to change to the shape to focus on near objects was diminishing. But that’s not the worst problem that happens with ageing.
The bad news.
Now I’ve discovered some more bad news for people who get older each year. About 1 person in 7 of those aged over 50 years of age have some form of this problem. I heard on the radio this morning that as every decade goes by, so the risk of this disease rises. In Australia around 170,000 of those people experience some form of loss in their eyesight as a result. Wikipedia says worldwide there are 6.2 million people who are effected by this problem. According to one report I read, it is the leading cause of legal blindness in Australia and is responsible for 50% of all cases. It’s called AMD and if you are planning to be over 80 some day, then Wikipedia says you have a 12% possibility of having it.
So what is AMD?
AMD is age related macula degeneration. The Macula is the central part of the light absorbing section of the eye. You are using your macula to read this blog. So when people get this disease, their ability to see diminishes in the centre of their vision. As a result they can still see things on the edges of their vision but not centrally. So if you try to look at something straight on you won’t see it but you will see it if you move your eyes slightly to the right or left. If you want some gruesome pictures of the inside of the eye you’ll have to Google that yourself!
In the early stages, yellow spots form on the light sensitive parts of the eye. They are painless and small amounts do not cause sight problems. At this stage an optometrist or eye specialist can often see these spots and their existence does not necessarily mean you will get full on AMD although having them does increase the chances of you progressing to the full disease.
There are two types of AMD – the dry type and the wet type. About ⅓ of people with AMD have the dry type and its progress is slow and over time causes gradual loss of vision. Dry AMD is not easily treated but the wet version is treatable and if caught in the early stages, you can have good vision well into your old age. However, the wet type, progress is much faster and often severe. Around 21,000 people are diagnosed with this problem annually in Australia.
How do you detect early stages?
The Amsler grid is used as a first step and you can use this test at home. Wikipedia says the Amsler grid, has been used since 1945 after it was developed by Marc Amsler, a Swiss ophthalmologist. It consists of a grid of horizontal and vertical lines. To test your vision, you look at the central dot and note if any of the lines are bent or missing. You can test your own vision if you click here or order one for your fridge from the Australian Macular Disease Foundation here. The reason you need one for your fridge is because you should test each eye individually almost every day. If the lines are bent or missing are stop reading and make an appointment to see someone now. The sooner you discover you have this problem, the sooner you can start treatment to halt its progress. In fact, according to the Macular Disease Foundation, if you detect problems with your vision you should seek assistance WITHIN ONE WEEK “because delayed treatment increases the likelihood of losing sight.”
If you are diagnosed with macular degeneration, make sure you tell your kids to have their eyes checked regularly since there is a 50% chance of them developing the same disease. That means it’s likely your mum or dad went blind as they got older. Not surprisingly smokers have three or four times the likelihood of developing AMD and may develop the disease five or 10 years earlier than non smokers.
So do something NOW
So what are you waiting for? Have you checked your vision yet? You should do that now so I’ll stop writing to give you a chance to test it. And you should have your eyes checked by an optometrist soon as well. If you need more information you can get it from the Macular Disease Foundation (after you have checked your vision on the Amsler grid) by clicking here.