Macular Degeneration

February 24, 2009

Macular degeneration does not mean an automatic sentence to a life of blindness

by Dr. Carolyn Anderson

Reading GlassesAs an eye surgeon, I frequently witness the devastating affects of macular degeneration among my patients. Currently there are treatments for both wet and dry macular degeneration but essentially there is no cure. Approximately 1/3 of people 55 to 74 years of age will develop macular degeneration and almost 40% of those over the age of 75 years will have some form of macular degeneration.

What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a chronic age related degenerative disease of the macula. The macula is a very small specialized area in the center of your retina that is responsible for your central clear vision, your color vision, and your ability to visualize things centrally. The risk of developing macular degeneration does increase with advancing age.

What Causes Macular Degeneration

There are a number of factors, which are both in and out of your control, that can put you at an increased risk of developing macular degeneration and knowing what these are can put you in a position to modify them and hopefully significantly reduce your risk.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

There are a number of the risk factors that you cannot control such as age. There definitely is a relationship between advancing age and macular degeneration. Another is family history. There is a two to three times greater risk of developing macular degeneration if you have family members that have acquired the disease. Gender is a factor in that females appear to be slightly more susceptible to macular degeneration.

Risk Factors You Can Control

In addition to the uncontrollable risk factors there are a number of risk factors that you can do something about. I think it is important for you to be proactive and do everything possible to either decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration or if you do develop it there are ways to slow down the progression of the disease.

The number one controllable risk factor would be smoking and certainly if you do smoke, quitting would significantly decrease your risk. The other is diet related. A diet low on antioxidant vitamins and minerals is a significant risk factor. Eating green leafy vegetables and foods that are high in both Lutein and antioxidants would be beneficial.

Sunlight exposure is another risk factor and you should wear sunglasses and a large brimmed hat to shield your eyes from the sun and this can significantly decrease your chances of developing macular degeneration. Two more risk factors that are particularly controllable are related to your level of fitness. The first one is high blood pressure, which can be controlled by improving your level of fitness. The second is excessive weight or obesity. Therefore it appears that there is no question that getting fit, no matter what your age, will be beneficial in decreasing your risk of developing macular degeneration.

Macular Degeneration Diagnosis

A diagnosis of macular degeneration does not mean an automatic sentence to a life of blindness however the disease can often have a profound affect on the quality of life. A significant loss of central vision can impact your ability to drive a car, read, watch television, and do a lot of the hobbies you may be interested in. Fortunately since your peripheral vision is not directly affected by age related macular degeneration you should still be able to function independently with the help of visual aids and rehabilitation.

One of the most difficult things to overcome however is the significant emotional toll that any sort of visual loss takes on an individual. Coping with the visual loss can be extremely difficult and I think that asking for help if you need it is very important whether it is through your family, friends, loved ones or even others with macular degeneration in the way of forming a support group that may be there to help you.

Once again, doing everything you can to prevent the development of macular degeneration or to slow the progression if you do develop it is of the utmost importance. Staying fit and healthy will help control your blood pressure and weight. By doing this you decrease your risk of age related macular degeneration.

For an exercise program specifically designed for seniors see our It’s Never Too Late To Be Fit book

About the Author: Dr. Carolyn Anderson is the founder of Impowerage. Her mission in life is to empower seniors with the information they need to continue living healthy active lifestyles.

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