Macular Degeneration in the Elderly
There is nothing quite as frightening as the prospect of losing one’s vision. For many, with the loss of vision comes the loss of independence and the ability to easily interact with others, especially for older adults. As a person ages, the chance of losing his or her vision increases due to macular degeneration.
Two Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration – wet and dry. Wet macular degeneration occurs when blood vessels grow abnormally under the macula which is in the back of the eye. Often times, the blood vessels will leak which in turn causes damage to the macula. This damage happens quickly.
The more common form of macular degeneration is the dry form. This is the slow breakdown of cells in the macula that are sensitive to light. This is a slow process, taking years, which can eventually lead to buried vision or vision loss.
What are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
The macular region of the eye provides the sharp, central vision allowing a person to see objects straight ahead. In addition to blurred vision in the central area of the eye, objects may seem dimmer than normal or a person might experience a blank spot with no vision at all. Over time, the blurred area or blank spot will grow in size. (www.nei.gov)
The early stages of macular degeneration in the elderly are not typically accompanied by any symptoms. During the middle stage, however, there may or may not be vision loss characterized by a change in the perception of colors, or straight lines being distorted. Blurry areas of white or darker areas may also affect an individual’s center of vision. In addition, at this stage, macular degeneration can only be found with an eye exam.
Once the older adult has reached the later stages of macular degeneration, vision loss will be noticeable and continue to worsen over time. At first, there may be a blurring in the middle region of the eye.
The ability to perform common tasks such as driving, reading, cooking, or being able to recognize faces will become increasingly difficult, which is why macular degeneration in the elderly is such an issue.
Macular Degeneration and the Elderly: Why Are They More Susceptible?
Unfortunately, vision loss is a part of the aging process. In your forties, you may have suddenly realized that reading glasses are now required to see print that used to jump off the page just a few short years ago. Fast forward to your late fifties and early sixties, and although macular degeneration seems to appear “overnight,” it has actually been a part of the slow aging process.
While there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, the key to slowing its progression is early detection. While older adults over the age of 60 are more susceptible to macular degeneration, other risk factors such as smoking, family history, and genetics factor into a person’s chances of being afflicted.
Regular exercise, monitoring cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as stopping smoking may be able to reduce the chances of being diagnosed with macular degeneration or slow its progress. Regular visits to the eye doctor can allow treatment to begin earlier rather than later when vision is truly impaired.
For more information, please review our Low Vision & Eye Problem Resources.