Older adults are at an increased risk for vision loss. It’s an unfortunate reality that as you grow older, your odds of developing vision problems rise. Researchers estimate that one out of every three adults age 65 and older has some type of vision impairment.
Cataracts are the most common vision problem for seniors. In the majority of cases, they can be corrected with surgery. Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is another condition older adults are at risk for developing. Unlike cataracts, however, AMD is not reversible.
According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, 10 million people in this country are living with the disease. That number is higher than those with cataracts and glaucoma combined. The condition typically appears in a person’s 60s or 70s and worsens over time.
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
This incurable eye disease is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. It primarily impacts central vision in the eye. That’s the vision responsible for completing detailed tasks like reading, writing, and driving. Having AMD also makes it more difficult for a senior to recognize faces.
Researchers say the condition occurs when the cells of the macula deteriorate. Images are not received and transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain properly. In its early stages, the disease isn’t noticeable. It generally doesn’t impact vision. As the disease progresses, however, wavy or blurred vision may develop. Later, as AMD worsens, central vision may be completely lost.
There are two general types of macular degeneration:
- Atrophic: Also referred to as dry macular degeneration, this condition accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all cases of AMD.
- Exudative: Known as wet macular degeneration, accounts for only 10 to 15 percent of all AMD cases.
While there is no current cure for the disease, several risk factors can be avoided with lifestyle modifications.
6 Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration
1. Age: This is the leading risk factor for developing AMD. People who are age 55 and over are more likely to receive this diagnosis.
2. Genetics: While they aren’t sure why, scientists say that genetics can play a role in those who are affected. If a relative has the disease, you are at an increased risk for getting it too.
3. Race: Caucasians develop AMD at higher rates than African Americans or Hispanics. Researchers aren’t sure why that is.
4. Smoking: One more reason to quit smoking is that you are twice as likely to get macular degeneration than a peer who doesn’t smoke.
5. Overweight: People who are overweight, especially those who carry extra weight in their abdomen, experience AMD at higher rates.
6. Sun exposure: Failing to protect your eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses or a hat can also contribute to macular degeneration in the long-term.