Expert Blogs | Eye Health
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
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 Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a chronic, progressive, and degenerative eye disease that affects the macula -- the center part of your retina -- leading to central vision loss. It usually occurs if you’re over 50-60 years old. More than 1.75 million Americans have advanced AMD. That number is projected to double in the next few decades as our population ages. 

Worldwide, about 228 million people will be diagnosed with AMD by 2040, with people of European descent having the highest risk, but all ethnicities are vulnerable. Other risk factors include smoking, poor diet, obesity, and a family history of AMD.  

People with early and intermediate-stage AMD can have mild to moderate vision loss. But those with advanced or end-stage AMD typically develop severe vision loss and can have several symptoms, depending on the type of AMD they develop. 

Wet AMD symptoms include seeing spots in your central vision or straight lines as wavy and distorted, affecting your reading ability. Most people will get eye injections to help control the bleeding and prevent new blood vessel growth.  

Dry AMD symptoms include washed-out colors and difficulty seeing fine details. Objects in the central vision may appear distorted and faded. Approximately 80% of the people diagnosed with AMD will have dry AMD, which accounts for about 20% of legal blindness (defined as 20/200 or worse in the better-seeing eye, best corrected with standard glasses or contacts).  

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eating a healthy diet and taking vitamin supplements can help slow the progression of dry AMD. 

When vision declines, you may be most affected by the diminished quality of life and have difficulty with even simple daily activities that rely on vision. You may also need high magnification for activities like reading, using a computer, and watching TV. 

Advanced AMD is severely debilitating, leading to reduced independence and significant emotional distress. People with moderate vision loss from advanced AMD have a 32% decrease in their quality of life, which is similar to what patients experience after breaking a hip. As the disease progresses, people report a 60% decrease in quality of life, which equates to the experience of someone with end-stage cancer who requires around-the-clock care. Despite this evidence, some doctors often understate the impact end-stage AMD has on people.  

Low-vision rehabilitation specialists, along with a multidisciplinary team including other rehabilitation professionals, occupational therapists, and orientation and mobility specialists, are the primary caregivers for people with advanced vision loss.

Vision rehabilitation can improve the quality of life for people with advanced AMD by teaching them skills such as how to use magnifying and adaptive devices, how to get around safely at home and in public, and how to handle daily activities, including getting dressed, cooking, and reading. 

If you have advanced AMD, low-vision devices and tools can improve your daily function and help you reduce depression. Large-print books, high-powered lenses, desktop or stand/handheld magnifiers, and electronic assistive technology can help with reading, while telescopes and virtual reality devices can make watching TV and other distance activities more enjoyable. Large-button phones and keyboards with solid, contrasting numbers can also help reduce feelings of social isolation. Talking clocks or large-numbered clocks can help you easily keep track of your day if you are visually impaired.

Other electronic vision enhancement systems (head-mounted, desktop, or handheld) can also help you with everyday activities such as applying makeup, getting dressed, and cooking. Delivering a portion of vision rehabilitation for training and monitoring progress through remote or telehealth models is a critical component and opportunity. 

You can learn more at the National Eye Institute




Photo Credit: Anna Frank / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO

Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO

Optometrist, professor, and clinician

Susan A. Primo, OD, MPH, FAAO, is professor of ophthalmology and director of optometry and vision rehabilitation services at the Emory University Eye Center in Atlanta. She has been a practicing optometrist for over 35 years. Believing that strategic public health approaches to address visual impairment and loss are desperately needed, Primo completed her MPH degree to help combat this problem. Her goal is to increase access to primary eye care services, especially in underserved communities, to reduce the burden of preventable vision loss and to improve the quality of life for those who may have lost vision.

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