Macular Degeneration And Knowing Your Options

Issue 18.13

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for people age 60 and older in the United States. Some estimate that as many as one in four persons ages 85 and above have AMD.  Although hardly spoken of 30 years ago, with longer life expectancies and greater awareness, now almost everyone knows a family member or friend that has macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration involves a gradual deterioration of the center of the retina, where we see best for reading, sewing, seeing faces and detail.  The word “macula” actually means “spot.”  With macular degeneration, a “spot” (often not noticed by the person with AMD) may develop near the center of their vision, causing them to miss letters or words, or have distortion, making it difficult to read.  It may also make it difficult to recognize faces, because some of the identifying features near the center of the face are missing or distorted. 

Besides the frustration from not being able to read, write, or sew as easily, or being able to recognize faces, there is added challenge from family members or friends not understanding the nature of this loss.  AMD is largely a hidden disability, because the person can usually still travel and get around just fine, by using their peripheral vision. 

Further discouragement may occur if their ophthalmologist or optometrist tells them that there is “nothing else I can do.”  What the doctor probably means is that medication, surgery or changing their glasses (which is usually what is done to help improve vision) generally won’t make much difference in helping them to read.  What is really needed are special helps available at a low vision clinic, such as strong illuminated magnifiers, strong reading glasses, telescopic devices, electronic reading machines, or the new very helpful portable digital magnifiers.  

If you or someone you know has macular degeneration, get an appointment at a low vision clinic.  A low vision specialist can help you find the most helpful illuminated magnifiers, portable digital magnifiers, reading machines, or other devices to be able to continue to read, write, sew, and see faces and TV better.  Other devices can help with seeing the computer screen or sheet music more easily.  Most low vision devices are available at a low cost.  (Low vision devices and care do not need to be expensive.)  The specialist can also help you to learn to look slightly to the side, to better use your peripheral or side vision, and to see around that “spot” or distortion. 

Bryan Gerritsen is the Certified Low Vision Specialist at The Richens Eye Center. He has specific training, years of experience and can assist many people with macular degeneration in accomplishing their daily tasks. Bryan has helpful suggestions, multiple resources and low vision devices that are available at a low cost.  Please call the Richens Eye Center at (435) 216.1226 to schedule an appointment.

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