Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. Those affected by this slow, long-term deterioration of the eye are more likely to be white men over the age of 50 that have a family history of vision-related illness, diabetes or obesity. That said, an erosion or blurring of vision in any adult over 50 years of age should be reported to an ophthalmologist for further testing.
AMD results when the macula, the most sensitive part of the retina, begins to break down over time. The macula is responsible for sending sharp and clear signals to the brain via the optic nerve so that a person can more effectively interpret their surroundings.
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. The latter is the most common type of AMD, with nine out of every ten older people developing this type of condition. The former accounts for only ten percent of total cases. Dry AMD occurs when deposits build up on the macula and cause vision to become darker and less sharp. Wet AMD is far more serious and results when there is an abnormal accumulation of blood cells underneath the macula. Similar deterioration of vision will result, but this type of AMD could result in blindness in only a few days.
For most older adults, however, AMD will not result in total vision loss so much as a long, slow reduction in central vision. In other words, peripheral vision will be left intact and the affected will notice that they need more light when reading or going about daily tasks. If, however, the person suddenly has distorted vision or notices blind spots, they should seek medical attention, as this could be a sign that dry AMD has progressed to wet AMD.
The presenting symptoms for age-related macular degeneration occur over a long period of time, with the older adult finding that they need more light to read. They may also have some dulling of acuity while reading or performing intricate tasks.
Persons with AMD may experience symptoms in one or both eyes, to include the blurring of objects when they look straight ahead. This lessening of acuity near the center of vision may seem to grow over time, or develop into blank spots in the centralized area of focus. Additionally, overall vision may appear to be darker, which could impact driving, reading, cooking and performing repairs on small items such as watches or appliances.
With the onset and worsening of these symptoms, seniors may no longer feel comfortable leaving the home or driving and could develop signs of depression.
Those experiencing vision loss due to AMD might experience some of the following impairments:
Medical alert devices and fall protection systems are very useful assets for the older person experiencing the long, slow loss of their vision due to AMD.
Falls, spills, trips and balance issues all become more likely as the senior passes through the early, intermediate and late stages of AMD. At first, the older adult may have very few symptoms and will be able to function without too much impairment, but over the course of ten or more years, they may experience advanced vision loss in one or both eyes. That said, there may not be an urgent need to invest in a medical alert system immediately. However, it may be worth investigating fall protection systems when vision loss does become a barrier to freedom around the house or about town.
Age-related macular degeneration symptoms:
Due to the long, slow reduction in vision associated with each stage of this disease, the senior may elect to forgo immediately investing in a medical alert device. This may not be an issue for upwards of ten years, and there are ways to prepare well in advance for eventual vision impairment.
Of course, losing your vision gradually over time is scary, but as AMD progresses slowly, there is often a lot of time to prepare for potential impairments or limitations. Eventual blurring of central vision may prove more frustrating for the avid reader, writer, chef or tinkerer, but falls and isolation are very real in the last stages of AMD. Depression can result from an inability to partake in old hobbies or find new hobbies, as well as from the inability to drive and the loss of freedom that results.
There are many medical alert devices and systems that can put you in touch with a loved one if you feel blue, as well as help detect in-home falls. Depending on your individual AMD progression, one of these systems may be worth considering.