Preventing and Treating the Leading Cause of Blindness for Seniors: AMD

Dr. Alan Berger, Canadian Ophthalmological Society, Canadian Retina Society

After a lifetime of hard work, you deserve to live an active and healthy lifestyle without the fear of vision loss holding you back. I’ve worked as an ophthalmologist for 30 years in Toronto and have treated numerous patients who have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of vision loss. What most don’t know, but wish they had, is that if AMD is detected at an early stage, there are treatments that can decrease its rate of progression. It’s important we educate ourselves about AMD and the steps we can take to reduce vision loss with these tips from the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) and Canadian Retina Society (CRS):

What is AMD and the related symptoms?

AMD is a slow degenerative disease that causes damage to the center of the retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye and that focuses on images. While your peripheral (side) vision is usually unaffected, people with AMD lose the sharp, straight-ahead vision used for driving, reading, recognizing faces, and looking at detail. Though AMD doesn’t always lead to complete blindness, it can sometimes significantly impair simple daily activities. Over time, the areas of vision loss may grow larger or denser or you may develop blank spots in your central vision.

As we age, our independence becomes more important to us. So to be able to maintain these daily activities, such as driving and reading, it’s important to be proactive and take note of symptoms.

What causes AMD and how can it be detected?

AMD is age-related meaning people over 60 are the most at risk for developing the condition, though other risk factors may into play including heredity, blue eyes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and smoking. You can reduce your risk by taking proactive measures, and remember, early detection is key:

Get regular comprehensive medical eye exams. Because the early stages of AMD usually start without symptoms, I always stress the importance of a regular comprehensive eye exam as it’s critical to diagnosing and treating the disease in its early stages. The COS and CRS recommend that people over age 65 get an exam at least once every two years, even if they have no symptoms of eye problems.

Quit smoking. Numerous studies have shown smoking to increase the risk of developing AMD and the speed at which it progresses. Smokers are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration compared with a non-smoker.

Know your family’s eye health history. If you have a close relative with AMD, you have a significantly greater chance of developing the condition. Before you go in for your next eye exam, speak with your family about their eye health history as it may prompt your ophthalmologist to recommend more frequent eye exams. The earlier AMD is detected, the better chances you have of saving your vision.

Eat a diet rich in omega-3s and low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Studies show that people who had a reduced risk of AMD had diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, and omega-3 enriched foods like yogurt and eggs. Eating leafy greens is recommended.

Stay active. As we age, it’s easy to embrace the comforts of your home and take on less strenuous activities. But it’s just as important to maintain regular exercise to not only keep a healthy weight but also reduce the risk of developing AMD. Daily morning walks or a 20 minute stroll after a meal is a great way to maintain an active lifestyle. Swimming is also an excellent low-impact activity.

As we age, we come to appreciate the simpler things in life whether it’s playing with grandkids, taking up a hobby or finding more time for a good book. Don’t let the loss of vision affect your independence. Leading an active, healthy lifestyle and getting regular eye exams is important to saving your long-term vision, especially after age 60. Speak to your eye care physician about your eye health and the steps you should take to ensure healthy eyesight for years to come.