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Mon, Feb. 17

Macular degeneration

Even though doctors diagnosed Mary Clarke, 89, with macular degeneration four years ago, she doesn't dwell on her condition.

"People with macular degeneration should not feel depressed or sorry for themselves," she said.

Clarke still has some central vision, but can't make out details like faces or road signs. Rather than fall into a self-pity spiral, Clarke tries to make the best of her condition.

"I just thought it's just one of those things in old age," she said, adding that she goes to the blind center twice a week and church once a week.

Macular degeneration is an age-related eye condition that forms as people grow older, said Jennifer Sarmiento, an O.D. at Roadrunner Optical in Prescott.

She explained that the macula is an area in the back of the eye on the retina. It's the most sensitive part of one's vision. As people get older, the macula will start to deteriorate.

Both Dr. Carrie Miranda from Granite Creek Eye Care and Joanie Allen of Rummel Eye Care said that when someone has macular degeneration, the eye loses its ability to dispose of waste material. This waste material can collect and block blood vessels in the eye.

Allen, who is C.O.M.T.-certified and has helped coordinate a macular degeneration support group, said experts believe this condition forms primarily from a lack of circulation in the eye. Cells begin breaking down in the macula as a result of the waste blockage. In return, the breakdown affects the eye's central vision.

Sarmiento said that at first the individual may see wavy, blurry or distorted images. As the condition worsens, that person may lose complete vision in the center of the eye.

Eye experts agree that even though macular degeneration doesn't form in everyone, people can begin taking precautions to help prevent its development.

"I think everyone should wear sunglasses when outside," Sarmiento said.

Ultraviolet light is one cause of macular degeneration, she continued. In addition, experts said smoking, lack of nutrition and a family history of macular degeneration are other factors. Miranda highly stresses the importance of eating vegetables and exercising regularly to help prevent this condition.

"If it's green, eat it," she said. "Anything that maintains a healthy body is good for your eyeball, too."

All the experts say people should go for yearly eye exams. If doctors do detect any changes in the macula, certain eye vitamins are available over-the-counter to help prevent further changes in the macula.

Miranda said Ocuvite Preservision (the AREDS formula) and I-CAPS are the only two vitamins proven to help prevent further changes. However, Sarmiento added that Lutein, which is a vitamin and antioxidant, helps slow down macular degeneration as well.

Experts said macular degeneration is more common in women than men and tends to occur in someone's late 60s to early 70s. In addition, the less pigment someone has, the more risk that individual faces in forming macular degeneration. Currently, no cures exist for this eye disease.

That doesn't bother Clarke, though. She takes a proactive approach, wearing special magnifying glasses to watch TV and buying books on tape for leisure time. Her family members help her with activities she can't do alone.

"Be sure to go to your eye doctor," she reminds the public. "Keep busy. Don't sit and fret."

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