Macular degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of chronic, degenerative retinal eye diseases that cause progressive loss of central vision, leaving the peripheral or side vision intact. It affects the ability to read, drive, recognise faces and perform activities that require detailed vision. Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, is the leading cause of legal blindness and severe vision loss in Australia, responsible for 50% of all cases of blindness.

Certain forms of the disease can also affect younger people. But Macular Degeneration is usually related to ageing and most frequently affects people over the age of 50..

Aged Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a serious eye disease that has limited treatment and no outright cure. As a civilian, whose only experience has been a personal one I want to pass on what little I know from that perspective.

Everyone over fifty should have an Amsler grid hanging on their wall, especially if there’s a history of Aged Macular Degeneration (AMD) in the family. (Get an Amsler grid from any optometrist). Just a casual check once a week to make sure there aren’t any changes to the grid. If the lines are suddenly not showing straight the next step is an immediate visit to the optometrist or eye specialist where the affected eye can be monitored.

A retinal digital scan included in a general annual check up can reveal serious diseases and should be considered more than an option. Until my mother was diagnosed with AMD, I was, like most of the population, blissfully unaware. Mum was told that she had lost the sight in one eye and without realising it, had automatically compensated for it by focussing on the other. Now she has injections in her functioning eye and will keep having them until her eye becomes too scarred to take any more.

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet.

The dry form results in a gradual loss of central vision and although there is currently no treatment, diet and lifestyle, including the use of an appropriate supplement, can help slow disease progression and vision loss.

The wet form is characterised by a sudden loss of vision and is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina. There are a number of treatments available for wet macular degeneration. While these treatments cannot cure the disease, they aim to stabilise and maintain the best vision for as long as possible. In some people, treatment can improve vision. Which is why early detection is critical.

About one in seven Australians – or 1.15 million people – over the age of 50 years has some evidence of this disease.

Approximately 17% of these people (over 190,000) will experience vision impairment. Over 14% of Australians over 80 (almost 130,000) have vision loss or blindness from age-related macular degeneration.

There is currently exciting research into a ‘bionic eye’. It’s still in the experimental stage and years away from being a viable proposition.

The older I get, the more I realise how many things can and do go wrong with a human body. Researchers and the good corporate citizens who fundthem are our greatest hope. To individuals and corporations alike, before you decide where to put your next philanthropic dollar I hope you can consider Macular Degeneration research and contact the Macular Disease Foundation, Australia.



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