Providing Support to an Elderly Family Member with Macular Degeneration

When a beloved family member or friend experiences macular degeneration, we often confront a range of emotional, mental, and physical challenges as they adapt to new ways of living. As caregivers, we have the opportunity to support our loved ones in maintaining their self-reliance and overall well-being by comprehending the condition and implementing effective care strategies.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration stands as a significant eye disorder and the leading cause of vision loss among adults aged 60 and older. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for transmitting light from the eye to the brain. It results in blurred central vision, making tasks that rely on clear vision, such as reading, sewing, and driving, increasingly challenging. According to the BrightFocus Foundation, an estimated 11 million individuals in the United States are affected by some form of AMD, making it a prominent global cause of vision impairment.

Types of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration exists in two primary forms: wet and dry. Both forms develop gradually and are typically painless, often going unnoticed until detected during a routine eye examination.

Wet Macular Degeneration: “Wet” AMD leads to the deterioration of the macula’s fine detail vision capability. This condition arises when abnormal blood vessels begin to form in the macula, gradually displacing it from its normal position at the back of the eye, ultimately causing vision loss. While wet macular degeneration is less common than the dry form, it accounts for 90 percent of legal blindness across all age groups, according to the BrightFocus Foundation.

Dry Macular Degeneration: Dry macular degeneration is more prevalent than wet AMD. It develops as light-sensitive cells in the macula gradually deteriorate, resulting in blurred vision and central vision loss. Individuals with dry macular degeneration may have difficulty recognizing faces, require more light for reading, and experience slight blurriness in their vision.

Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration

The precise causes of macular degeneration remain incompletely understood. However, the likelihood of developing this condition does increase with age, as reported by Mayo Clinic. Other physical and lifestyle factors associated with macular degeneration include:

Extreme farsightedness or difficulty in seeing nearby objects clearly compared to distant objects.
A diet high in cholesterol or obesity.
Prolonged exposure to sunlight.
A family history of macular degeneration.
Race, with Caucasians having the highest risk of developing AMD, according to the National Eye Institute.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Macular Degeneration

As there is no cure for either form of macular degeneration, the primary goal of treatment is to manage the symptoms and slow down vision loss. Treatment options include laser surgery and medications. It is advisable for all older adults to schedule annual eye examinations with an ophthalmologist or optometrist to detect macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye conditions, even if they don’t currently have a vision disorder.

As caregivers, we can also encourage our loved ones to self-monitor for macular degeneration symptoms using an Amsler Grid. This tool resembles graph paper with a central dot. While our loved ones focus on the dot, we can inquire if any of the lines appear blurred, distorted, or missing. If they do, it is crucial for the person we care for to schedule an appointment with their ophthalmologist without delay. You can obtain an Amsler Grid online or request one from an eye doctor.

Low Vision Aids

A variety of low vision aids are available to help our loved ones with vision problems maintain their independence. Some useful low vision aids include:

Magnifiers for activities like computer use, sewing, knitting, or reading.
Large-print or voice-assisted dictionaries, cookbooks, globes, maps, and calculators.
Talking clocks, radios, kitchen timers, and scales.
Canes, walkers, or other mobility aids to prevent falls.
Magnifying screens for TVs and computers or screen reader software.
Low vision playing cards, Bingo boards, and board games.
Audible pill and medication reminders.
Needle guides to help individuals with diabetes locate and insert needles into insulin bottles.

These and other valuable low vision tools can be found in pharmacies, medical supply stores, or online. Most public libraries also offer a wide range of materials for those with low vision, including large-print books, audio books on CDs or in Braille, Braille sports schedules, tax forms, raised-line maps, and recorded foreign language books.

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