Vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is prevalent in the United States. This disease causes progressive blindness in over 11 million people across the country. Since there is no cure for it yet, older adults face difficulties performing basic activities such as driving, recognizing people, cooking, and reading.
Age-related macular degeneration also happens to be the leading cause of total vision loss in seniors. Unfortunately, all predictions indicate that more and more seniors may lose their ability to see due to this ocular disorder.
This blog post, however, explores how you can manage macular degeneration in the elderly as a caregiver. Before laying out the tips and strategies, let us understand the disease in more detail.
What is Age-related Macular Degeneration?
The macula (from where the name of this vision disorder is derived) forms the central part of our retinas at the back of our eyes. As we age, this tissue becomes weaker, thereby affecting our brain’s ability to form sharp, central images.
In AMD, this condition becomes chronic and gets worse progressively. Even though young adults can develop AMD, it mostly affects seniors (65 and above).
Macular degeneration can be grouped into two categories:
Dry AMD vs Wet AMD
When cells in the macula break down gradually, it causes thinning of the tissue. This leads to what we call, dry AMD and it is the more prevalent of the two. On the other hand, Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels form beneath the macula. Because of the extra pressure, it causes fluid leakage or bleeding in the macula, damaging it as a result.
Most people with dry AMD do not experience any symptoms during the onset of the disease. To timely detect symptoms of macular degeneration in the elderly, it’s essential to visit your ophthalmologist for regular eye exams, especially after a certain age.
We recommend going for annual check-ups to catch the disease early on – before the symptoms even start to show up. It’s when dry AMD progresses to wet AMD, that most people begin to notice the signs.
Some of them are:
- Blurred vision: The elderly may start to feel the need for more light to perform different tasks such as reading. This is an early sign of a vision problem.
- Blindspot: If your aging loved one notices a gradually increasing blind spot near their central vision, that needs to be medically evaluated immediately.
- Crooked lines: When wet macular degeneration takes hold of a person’s retina, they start to see wavy or jagged lines in their field of vision. This is typical of those extra blood vessels that may have grown beneath the macula. The fluid leaked from these vessels, as a result, displaces the macula and raises it from its original position. That’s why seniors with wet AMD experience distorted vision.
- Difficulty seeing details: Often, seniors with AMD have difficulty recognizing faces or reading words in a book.
- Lighting: In this particular symptom, colors may appear dull, and images may seem grayer.
If your loved one can check more than one of these symptoms, there shouldn’t be any delay in seeking medical advice. Meanwhile, you can follow some steps for managing macular degeneration in seniors.
These are explained in the next section.
Managing Macular Degeneration in the Elderly: Dry AMD
As established earlier, dry AMD may not cause any symptoms. It needs to be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist through an eye examination. Now, if your elderly loved one has indeed been diagnosed with dry AMD, their eye health needs to be at its optimal state to prevent or delay the onset of wet AMD.
Here’s how you can manage macular degeneration in seniors:
- Take eye vitamin: Upon being prescribed by a doctor, your loved one should start taking key eye vitamins, primarily vitamin E, C, and A, along with copper and zinc. Research has shown that supplements may lower the probability of developing wet AMD in seniors by at least 25% over five years. Your doctor will recommend the best formulation as per your condition.
- Quit smoking: If your aging loved one has been wanting to stop smoking, there is probably no more significant reason than AMD. Studies have shown that smoking can worsen age-related macular degeneration. Not only does it increase the risk of developing AMD in people who don’t have it, but it also escalates vision loss in seniors who have already been diagnosed with dry AMD.
- Monitor vision changes: Since seniors are vulnerable to developing this ocular disorder, they should monitor their vision at home. Most ophthalmologists recommend using the Amsler grid. To test the vision, all they need to do is stare at the grid. If they see a sport, blurry images, or distorted lines, you must contact your eye doctor right away. Studies suggest that seniors can use this grid weekly to monitor their vision at home. Also, check with your insurance company if they cover more sophisticated AMD monitoring systems.
- Consult your doctor regularly: This can never be stressed enough. If your aging family member has been diagnosed with dry AMD, you should take them for regular eye exams every six months. However, an ophthalmologist would advise the right duration according to your loved one’s condition.
That brings us to the management of wet AMD.
Managing Macular Degeneration in the Elderly: Wet AMD
If the ocular disease has progressed to wet AMD, the earlier it’s detected, the better. At this stage, the focus is on preventing or delaying total vision loss in seniors. For that, monitoring is not enough. You need to begin an active treatment as advised by your doctor.
Here are the steps you can follow:
- Get professional help: If AMD has advanced to later stages, the patient may no longer be capable of handling their chores or self-care activities. In that case, it’s vital that you hire a professional caregiver for their assistance. Getting professional help becomes even more critical if the family members cannot stay with the elderly all the time. Besides, a professional caregiver can take them to appointments, run errands, take care of their diet, and accompany them to appointments. Remote monitoring services are also a great option to keep track of their health and ensure their safety.
- Purchase low-vision aids: Besides medical treatment, certain measures like buying low-vision aids can help the elderly. If they find the text difficult to read, for instance, getting them magnifiers would make it easier. Apart from that, you can also consult a low-vision specialist for rehabilitation.
- Keep taking vitamins: It’s usually one eye that develops wet AMD. If the other eye is still in the dry ADM stage, it’s important that seniors keep taking the supplements mentioned earlier. That may prevent the other eye from developing the wet AMD as well. Besides, they can continue using the Amsler grid to monitor their central vision in the healthier eye.
- Receive regular treatment: This is the most critical step in managing macular degeneration in the elderly. Doctors may recommend anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) therapy, laser therapy, or any other treatment available for wet AMD. It may prevent further vision loss or blood vessels from growing beneath the macula.
By following these tips, you can help the elderly suffering from AMD preserve their vision and stay independent.