I no longer live in the same town as my mother, but try to see her regularly. You see, in the last 2 years I have seen my mother be uprooted from her hometown where she was born, raised and lived, moved from her home of 40 years to a new home and a new city. She has left all of her friends with this move, and, most importantly for her, lost her highschool sweetheart, best friend and soulmate of 52 years when my father passed away. She has lost much of her independence due to the warp speed progression of macular degeneration of her eyes. She cannot read, drive, or do most things requiring vision. However, out of all of these losses I must say she has never once lost her sense of humor, interest in others and current events, and stubborn eternal optimism. She does not complain, whine or have pity parties. She has several health related issues, some more serious than others, yet where she may be weak in body she makes up tenfold with her strength of spirit. I only hope I have an ounce of that within myself!
All of this brings me to a subject until recently I had no knowledge of. Until my mother’s diagnosis of macular degeneration I had never heard of the disease. However, I now hear it on The Doctors show, read about it in magazines and have seen several interviews with folks suffering from it.
It can be debilitating. Once progressed, one cannot drive, watch television, read, shop, write bills or read mail. On a personal note, if you have ever been around me you know I wear my heart on my sleeve and will cry at a Publix commercial. So, reading birthday cards to my mother was not pretty for me! Her friends and nephews wrote such touching notes to her that I could not read them aloud without a lump in my throat.
I’m not sure why macular degeneration is becoming more prevalent. My own unresearched, unscientific opinion is that the baby boomers are aging and as this can be an age related condition, more will be suffering so more information will be heard.
Many people can have macular degeneration for years and the symptoms will only be minor. My mother’s progressed at warp speed and no one has been able to explain that. She has an autoimmune disease, where the body attacks itself, so my own, again, unresearched, unscientific opinion is that the autoimmune disease may have speeded the progression. Of course, if you have any medical background and are reading this and it sounds like hogwash, it might be, but it makes sense to me.
What is Macular Degeneration?
The American Association of Opthamology says this:
Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.
With macular degeneration, you may have symptoms such as blurriness, dark areas or distortion in your central vision, and perhaps permanent loss of your central vision. It usually does not affect your side, or peripheral vision. For example, with advanced macular degeneration, you could see the outline of a clock, yet may not be able to see the hands of the clock to tell what time it is.
There are two types: dry or wet macular degeneration.
Most people who have macular degeneration have the dry form. This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Macular degeneration usually begins when tiny yellow or white pieces of fatty protein called drusen form under the retina. Eventually, the macula may become thinner and stop working properly.
With dry macular degeneration, vision loss is usually gradual. People who develop dry macular degeneration must carefully and constantly monitor their central vision. It is SO IMPORTANT to see your eye doctor is you notice ANY changes in your vision. The dry form can change into the more damaging form of macular degeneration called wet (exudative) macular degeneration. While there is no medication or treatment for dry macular degeneration, some people may benefit from a vitamin therapy regimen for dry macular degeneration.
About 10 percent of people who have macular degeneration have the wet form, but it can cause more damage to your central or detail vision than the dry form.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow underneath the retina. This blood vessel growth is called choroidal neovascularization (CNV) because these vessels grow from the layer under the retina called the choroid. These new blood vessels may leak fluid or blood, blurring or distorting central vision. Vision loss from this form of macular degeneration may be faster and more noticeable than that from dry macular degeneration.
The longer these abnormal vessels leak or grow, the more risk you have of losing more of your detailed vision. Also, if abnormal blood vessel growth happens in one eye, there is a risk that it will occur in the other eye. The earlier that wet macular degeneration is diagnosed and treated, the better chance you have of preserving some or much of your central vision. That is why it is so important that you and your ophthalmologist monitor your vision in each eye carefully.
While there is no cure for macular degeneration there are steps you can take to lower your risk or slow the progression of this condition.
Therefore, here are my FIT TIPS:
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, STOP yesterday! If you don’t, for Heavens sake, don’t start! Smoking is a powerful risk factor for loss of vision with AMD. In fact, one study showed that smoking more than doubles the risk of AMD. This study also found that AMD is more than twice as common in people who smoke more than a pack of cigarettes a day, compared with people who do not smoke.
- Wear sunglasses. UV protection may play an important role in preventing AMD. Beginning at a young age, begin protecting the eyes from UV light. Look for sunglasses that afford 100% UV protection or prescription eyewear with the same. A brimmed hat offers extra protection to shade the eyes when you are outdoors.
- Care for your cardiovascular system. Recently published data shows that people with uncontrolled hypertension were approximately three times as likely to develop the wet, or more severe, type of macular degeneration, compared to those without hypertension. Regular cardiovascular activity, such as walking or biking, may reduce the rate of progression to advanced AMD by as much as 25 percent.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables! Studies have shown that a diet rich in dark, leafy green vegetables will help decrease an individual’s risk of developing AMD and/or help delay progression of the disease once it has begun. A recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that individuals who had the highest consumption of vegetables rich in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, had a 43% lower risk of developing AMD than those who ate these foods the least. Vegetables that are rich in these two carotenoids include raw spinach, kale, and collard greens. A new study also shows that people who eat three or more servings per day of fruit have a 36 percent lower risk of AMD compared to those who ate less than one-and-a-half servings per day. If an intermediate degree of AMD has already developed, or an advanced degree of AMD has developed in one eye, studies indicate that dietary supplementation with vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, zinc and copper may help to delay progression of the disease.
- Limit dietary fat. Before you reach for that pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, consider that high fat intake is associated with an increased risk of AMD. A study published in the August 2001 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, which are particularly prevalent in cold-water fish, had a protective effect against advanced macular degeneration. Meanwhile, consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, prevalent in vegetable oils, was associated with an increased risk. But go nuts for nuts! Eating one serving a day of any type of nut, according to AgingEye Times, reduces the risk of progression of AMD by 40 percent.
There you have it . . . bottom line, be and eat healthy, exercise. Do the things you know you should. You’ll feel good, increase your chances of keeping your vision, and your drivers license!
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!
HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!
Have you done your push ups? Go ahead, get ’em done! Are you wearing green today?