How to Deal With Macular Degeneration

older woman with macular degenerationWhen people hear that their loved one has received a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the first reactions is fear. And it’s a legitimate fear, too; AMD is the leading cause of severe loss of vision in Americans age 65 and older. That said, there are ways to deal with macular degeneration that can significantly boost quality of life.

What is macular degeneration?

In order to understand what AMD is, we need a bit of biology.

The retina is located at the back of the eye. It’s a very thin film of tissue, and it’s where the light-sensitive cells send signals to the brain. The macula is the central part of the retina, and it’s the part of the eye that processes straight-ahead vision (as opposed to peripheral vision). What happens with AMD is that it damages the macula, so that the person suffers from blurry central vision and blind spots.

There are two kinds of AMD, wet and dry:

  • Wet AMD is far less common. Which is good, because it cause a lot more damage a lot more quickly. What happens is that new, fragile blood vessels grow underneath the retina. Because they’re so fragile, they’re at high risk of leaking. Eventually that happens, and blood and fluid leak into the macula.
  • Dry AMD us much more prevalent. It causes the macula to thin and age. When that happens, yellow deposits, known as drusen, build up underneath the retina. Dry AMD progresses much more slowly.

Whether wet or dry, there is no actual cure for AMD. That doesn’t mean, though, that there’s no hope.

Nutrition can help deal with macular degeneration.

According to the CDC, there are vitamins and minerals that can help slow down the progression of AMD. They include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Beta-carotene
  • Zinc
  • Copper

You can get these in supplements, or from nature. Green leafy vegetables (are you surprised?) are really rich in all of these. Try blending them into a smoothie with equal amounts of fruit if your loved one doesn’t care for eating the leaves. If they live in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, talk to the staff about arranging it; they’ll be happy to help.

Speak to your doctor about therapies if AMD progresses.

A crucial part of dealing with macular degeneration is being very consistent with eye checkups. If your loved one has visited the doctor and found that the disease has progressed, don’t despair. Medical breakthroughs have brought a whole new arsenal of therapies that can prevent severe vision less and slow the progression of the disease.

  • Medication. The use of anti-angiogenesis drugs has been a game-changer for wet AMD. These medications stop new abnormal blood vessels from forming, as well as stop the leakage from old ones. Some patients with wet AMD have even gained back vision they thought was lost forever.
  • Laser therapies. There are two kinds. The first is regular laser therapy. High-energy laser light destroys the abnormal vessels that are causing all the problems. The second kind, photodynamic laser therapy, is a two-step process. The doctor administers a light-sensitive drug called Visudyne that’s absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels. Then he shines a cold laser light into the eye. That activates the drug, which then damages those blood vessels.

Don’t forget to ask about tech devices.

In addition to nutrition and therapies, ask your loved one’s ophthalmologist about low-vision aids and other technologies. While talking about these incredible gadgets is a subject for an entire post, they can be roughly divided into two categories.

First up are low-vision aids. Specially outfitted magnifying glasses, high-zoom mirrors, TV glasses and more can all help your loved one see much better than they are now. The second type of technology doesn’t help with vision per se. Instead, they’re designed to offer your loved one a lot more independence and control. We’re talking about large-button phones, talking clocks and watches, voice-activated devices and even kitchen gadgets.