Macular Degeneration: Act Early to Save Your Sight

12 MAY 2020

Eye health

When Jessica Falon’s grandmother was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), she understood there was a strong family risk of getting the disease and decided to take an active approach to protecting her own sight.

Jessica (pictured with her mother and grandmother) is 23 years old and visits her local optometrist regularly for a comprehensive eye examination. She doesn’t smoke and has adopted an eye-friendly diet to support the health of her macula.

Jessica’s grandmother, Helen, was diagnosed with wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration, a condition that caused rapid deterioration of her central vision. There is effective sight-saving treatment for this form of the disease, but by the time Helen saw an optometrist, her condition was already quite advanced.

Today, Helen is legally blind.

Helen lost her husband many years ago. She is a very independent person who loves cooking but, she started to notice she was making mistakes which were unlike her, “like putting salt in food instead of sugar or not being able to find things,” says Jessica.

Losing her sight was gradual.

“It has been quite hard to watch her lose that independence.”

What is AMD?

AMD is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. One in seven people over the age of 50 have signs of the disease, and the incidence increases with age. It is a painless, progressive disease that destroys central vision, leaving peripheral vision intact.

Reducing the Risks

There’s no cure for AMD, but you can reduce your risk.

Jessica has made a couple of simple changes to her life in order to help her vision.

“It’s not that big of a change really, but we make a habit of putting spinach in just about everything and plenty of oily fish!” she says.

Jessica can’t guarantee making those changes to her diet will stop her getting AMD but, in making these changes, she is supporting the health of her macula.

“I can get regular macula checks and monitor my vision as I get older. If I can better my chances in any way, it is got to be a big win.”

The Four Major AMD Risk Factors

There are four major risk and prevention factors for AMD:

  1. Smoking

Smokers have a three to four times higher risk of AMD than non-smokers

  1. Age

As you get older, the risk of getting AMD increases dramatically

  1. Family history

If you have an immediate family member with AMD, you have a 50% risk of getting it too

  1. Eye exams

A regular eye exam with your local Eyecare Plus optometrist will ensure early detection of AMD, giving you the best chance of preventing vision loss.

Proactive Lifestyle Changes

Jessica knows that while she’s a long way off the high-risk 50 plus age group, the changes she’s making now will help put her in a great position to prevent or delay the onset of AMD as she gets older.

“I understand the hereditary aspect of the disease and so even though the prospect of macular disease seems in the distant future, my sister and I have talked about our vision. We have an Amsler grid on the fridge, and we are incorporating macula friendly foods into our meals,” says Jessica.

If you know AMD is something in your family, have a conversation about it.

“I have seen just how much AMD impacts Nana and the changes I have made to my diet and lifestyle are so easy,” says Jessica.

The Macular Disease Foundation Australia offers free advice and support for people at risk of, or living with, macular disease, including AMD and diabetic eye disease.

To find out more about macular degeneration, contact your local Eyecare Plus optometrist or call the National Macular Disease Helpline on 1800 111 709.

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