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Mon, Sept. 23

Not another Baby Boomer health risk!
Rate of macular degeneration increases as we age

The leading cause of vision loss in those aged 50 and older is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). The bad news is there is no cure.

However, there are certain things people can do starting today to hold this disease at bay for as long as possible, as well as advice for those in younger age brackets.

The biggest risk factor for ARMD is age, but others include smoking – which doubles the risk – exposure to ultra violet light which is stronger at higher altitudes, and family history, especially for Caucasians.

Besides stopping smoking and wearing proper sunglasses and hats, those at risk can increase their intake of green leafy vegetables, fish and berries, said Jennifer Sarmiento, a Prescott optometrist and presenter through the Senior Connection Speakers Bureau who spoke this fall at the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Prescott.

Sarmiento explained that two forms of ARMD exist – dry and wet. The dry form, which makes up 85 to 90 percent of the cases, has a slow onset that can last for years; the wet form occurs where leaking blood vessels under the macula cause distortion and blurring of the vision.

When macular degeneration occurs in young people, it is usually due to Stargardt disease caused by a recessive gene.

Sarmiento recommends keeping an Amsler grid handy to periodically check one’s vision. If any of the grid lines appear wavy or missing, that could be an indication of vision changes due to macular degeneration. A visit to an ophthalmologist with dilation and examination could diagnose the disease.

The macula, located in the back layer of the eye, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye. It helps us see details, read, and recognize faces. As it deteriorates, people experience wavy or blurred vision, and begin to lose their central vision. Peripheral vision remains, but gradually grows narrower.

Laser surgery will sometimes works on the wet form to seal the leaky vessels, but leakage often returns. A new form of injection therapy together with photodynamic therapy may help seal leaking vessels and slow the progression of the disease.

Treatment of all conditions of the disease includes a vitamin regimen, diet and exercise program. Supplements which include lutein, zeaxanthin (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), have been found beneficial. Also helpful is to maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Sarmiento encourages seniors who are experiencing vision problems to use low vision devises such as magnification devices, to add more lighting, and to stay engaged with their world. Having a support team with professionals, counselors and social workers will help people cope with vision loss.

The National Eye Institute website mentions Charles Bonnet syndrome, or visual hallucinations, that sometimes occur as a side effect of vision loss in people with ARMD. It is similar to what happens with people who lose a limb, and it usually goes away after 12-18 months. Blinking, closing one’s eyes, focusing on an object or turning on a light can be helpful.

To learn about upcoming presentations, visit the Senior Connection website at www.seniorconnection.us.

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