Macular degeneration is an extremely
common reason for vision loss among the elderly. The macula is a
sensitive area of the eye located in the center of the retina, which
helps people see clearly when looking straight ahead.
macular degeneration, this part of the eye deteriorates, resulting
in symptoms such as blank or blurred areas in your field of sight
when looking straight ahead. Macular degeneration may occur slowly
or quickly, and in one or both eyes.
Macular degeneration does not cause complete
blindness by itself. It can, however, interfere with daily
activities such as driving, writing, reading, cooking, or even
recognizing faces. It can be debilitating, and there is no
cure—although there are treatments that can mitigate the effect.
Difference Between Wet vs. Dry
macular degeneration is the most common, and is usually how
the disease starts. Approximately 80-90% of cases are dry. In this
type of degeneration, white and yellow deposits or “drusen” are
found on the retina under the macula, causing damage over time. In
the most severe cases, dry macular degeneration causes a thinning in
the macula’s normal, healthy cell layers, resulting in atrophy that
can cause blind spots in the patient’s central field of vision.
Wet macular degeneration is more serious.
While it affects only about 10-15% of cases, it is also the culprit
in about 90% of the most severe cases of vision loss from macular
degeneration overall. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in
the area of the macula. The blood vessels leak, break, and bleed
frequently, causing serious damage to the macula that eventually
separates it from the rest of the eye.
It is possible to
have the wet form of the disease in one eye, and the dry form in the
other. Those who are most at risk for developing macular
degeneration are the elderly. Most cases appear in patients age 60
years or older. It is possible to contract it at a younger age,
Those most at risk, aside
from the elderly, are:
According to research, smoking doubles the risk of contracting
Caucasians. Caucasians are
more likely to get the disease than African Americans or people from
Latin American countries.
Those with macular
degeneration in the family. The disease is passed on in the genes, and
if you have a history of it in the family, you are at higher risk of
contracting it yourself. There are approximately 20 genes that
contribute to developing macular degeneration, so it is difficult to
no cure there are treatments which
most common are the anti-angiogenesis drugs that stop new blood
vessels from forming under the macula, and help prevent abnormal
vessels already there from leaking. These drugs are a major leap
forward for treatment of wet macular degeneration, and they can even
cause vision to return in some cases. These drugs are often
administered via injection, on a monthly or six-week basis, or on a
different timeline depending on the patient’s needs.
Vitamins can also be helpful. Vitamins C, E, copper, zinc,
and beta-carotene have all been shown to help slow the progress of
dry macular degeneration.
Laser light therapy can destroy abnormal blood vessels under the
macula, stopping them from growing and damaging the tissue.
A joint medication and laser light therapy technique called
photodynamic laser therapy has also been shown to be effective. With
this treatment, a light-sensitive drug is injected into the
patient’s bloodstream, where it enters the blood vessels under the
macula. Afterward, the doctor shines a laser into the eye,
activating the drug and destroying abnormal blood vessels.
Vision aid devices. Some devices with specially
designed lenses or electronic features that show magnified images of
nearby objects have also been shown to help patients with this type
of degeneration see better.
There are other types of
treatment as well, which are considered to be more experimental.
These include submacular surgery and retinal translocation to
eradicate abnormal blood vessels. Patients do not go blind
from macular degeneration, and although the disease can cause
impairment, it is also possible to live a normal life with
it—especially with the assistance of vision aids and treatment.
While there is no cure, several different types of
treatments have been shown to help slow the progress of the disease
and even improve the patient’s vision.
Healthy Aging and Your Vision:
More than 40 million Americans are
currently age 65 or older, and this number is expected to grow to
more than 88 million by 2050. By that same year, the number of
Americans with age-related eye diseases is expected to double, and
the number of people living with low vision is projected to triple.
While vision loss is not a normal part of aging, older adults
are at a higher risk for certain eye diseases and conditions,
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration
- Diabetic Retinopathy
- Dry Eye
- Low Vision
Eye diseases often have no early
symptoms but can be detected during a comprehensive dilated eye
exam. Early detection and treatment are key to saving sight.
To learn more about healthy aging and vision, visit the National Eye
Institute (NEI) page about
Healthy Aging Month® or visit the Healthy Aging®
website at healthyaging.net
to access a variety of lifestyle resources and content.
Related Articles About Healthy Aging:
Importance of Elderly Dental Care
When Aging Parents Live a Distance Away
Reversal: Should You "Parent" Your Parent?
Signs of Dehydration in the Elderly
Talking With Your Parents About Aging Issues