Advanced-age adults who face increased odds of developing a degenerative eye disease frequently narrow their worries to conditions that are most in the spotlight and/or prevalent, such as the world’s two leading causes of blindness — cataract and glaucoma. Lost in this mix among senior Americans is adequate awareness of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In seniors ages 65 and older, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness. Nearly two million Americans have AMD, which causes harm to the sufferer’s central vision and limits his/her ability to read, write and recognize faces. Dry AMD (atrophic AMD) affects 8 out of 10 sufferers and is caused by the slow deterioration, or thinning, of the macula over time. Wet AMD (advanced neovascular AMD), or late-stage AMD, is a less common, but more serious form of AMD. At this stage, quicker vision loss occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye and damage the macula.
February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month. Throughout February, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) encourages senior adults to learn more about AMD as a serious degenerative eye disease that can cause irreversible vision loss or blindness if left untreated. The AAO has outlined both preventive practices to reduce risk of developing AMD, as well as key points of awareness related to the subtle, often easy-to-miss signs when this disease develops:
- Reduce Alcohol Consumption: A June 2021 Current Eye Research study found that moderate to high alcohol consumption was linked to a higher incidence of early AMD, compared with occasional or non-alcohol consumption. Once Dry January has ended, aging adults should aim to continue low- to no-alcohol consumption moving into the second month of the year.
- Nutrition: In 2013, the National Eye Institute published results of the AREDS 2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2), which found a multi-vitamin formula (antioxidant Vitamins C and E, lutein, beta carotene, and zinc) reduced risk in dry AMD patients of progression to advanced AMD. Eating a vitamin-rich diet with leafy greens, colorful vegetables and fatty fish gives aging adults an ace in the hand in preventing or slowing advancement of degenerative eye diseases like AMD.
- Exercise: Hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease are all risk factors for AMD. As adults reach their 60s and older, staying active remains critical for reducing the likelihood of a degenerative eye diseases like AMD that primarily affect senior adults.
- Quit or Avoid Smoking. Studies show smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD in comparison to non-smokers. Quitting smoking is the best step smokers can take toward lowering risk of developing AMD. People who quit smoking 20 years ago have the same risk of developing AMD as those who have never smoked.
- Heredity: AMD often runs in families, and genetics can play a role in up to 70 percent of AMD cases. To discuss with their eye specialist at their next comprehensive exam, aging adults should talk to close relatives to learn family history of AMD and other age-related ocular diseases.
- Routine Eye Exams: Getting a comprehensive eye exam by age 40 permits ophthalmologists/optometrists to screen for all age-related eye diseases such as AMD that cause vision loss, frequently before symptoms occur. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends all healthy adults get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40 to screen for blinding eye diseases.
Multiple factors are at play that increase our risk for developing a degenerative eye disease as we age. UNC Department of Ophthalmology encourages asymptomatic adults to have a comprehensive eye exam by age 40. By age 65, a routine eye exam is recommended every year. Call 984-974-2020 today to schedule your comprehensive eye exam with a UNC Ophthalmology ophthalmologist or optometrist. To learn more about degenerative ocular diseases that primarily affect senior adults, visit the AAO’s Eye Health Information for Adults Over 65 page.
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