Patient Education: Do You Know Your ABCs…of AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration)?
By Armond Dantino, RN, BSN, MBA
3 simple tips that could help save your vision
In my younger days, my family’s kitchen was the Grand Central Station of information. This was the place where all my relative’s families, in our three-story house, converged every evening for the family meal with a side helping of the neighborhood news and gossip of the day. Intermixed among the truths, half-truths and embellished stories, every member of the family had their health history dissected and tossed about like another piece of Italian bread.
The maladies ran the gamut from the common cold (because you didn’t wear a jacket in the 75-degree summer) to major surgeries and cancer diagnoses. There were no doctors in the family, so every disease was on a scale of:
- It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.
- Well, it could be worse.
- It’s serious, go to church and light candles.
Then things changed. I can recall the day, while sitting in my grandmother’s loud and vibrant kitchen, I first heard of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
My Nonna (grandmother) had gone to the ophthalmologist that day and she had been diagnosed with macular degeneration. As a kid, all I knew was that her vision was poor and the whole “age-related macular degeneration” thing was not only a long name for a disease I didn’t understand, but it also sounded like something only “old people” like my grandmother would get. At that time, during that latest health announcements, I could not have realized the profound effect this disease would have on me personally and professionally. Of course, over time, her condition worsened, and her vision deteriorated. Macular degeneration not only robbed her of her independence, it had a peripheral and taxing impact on everyone who lived in that house. Watching a loved one lose their independence is a difficult thing to endure.
Fast forward a few decades and I can offer an entirely different perspective, one with more hope for the future of macular degeneration. I first stepped into the realm of the medical industry when I earned my BSN in nursing from Western Connecticut State University. I spent about two years as a registered nurse before diving into ophthalmic medical sales. Today, being a 28-year veteran of medical instrument companies with US and international experience, I can say that these past 3 decades have granted me a unique outlook.
So, about those ABCs….
A is for Age-related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a retinal disease that affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. In the earliest stages of macular degeneration, you might experience some difficulty seeing at night or notice you’ve stopped driving after sunset. As the disease progresses, it may become harder to recognize faces, read, and watch TV as your central vision deteriorates. Think of the eye as a camera. The macula of an eye compares to the film or digital processor of a camera. With a camera, damage to the film or digital processor results in blurry pictures. In the human eye, a macula damaged by macular degeneration results in loss of central vision.
Macular degeneration is not only more prevalent than you may have believed – it is more common than glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy … combined! While it is age-related, it is certainly not an “old person’s” disease. In fact, people as young as 40 can have this disease. But it is true that the older you get, the higher your risk for this disease becomes…
- In people over 40: 1 in 14 will develop macular degeneration
- In people over 50: 1 in 12 will develop macular degeneration
- In people over 60: 1 in 8 will develop macular degeneration
- In people over 75: 1 in 3 will develop macular degeneration
B is for Better results come from earlier diagnosis
Macular degeneration is a sneaky disease. Your vision appears normal and your overall health may seem good. You notice some changes with seeing at night and, albeit begrudgingly, you think of it as part of the normal aging process. You shrug it off and fail to take a mental note to make an appointment with your eye care provider.
In the meantime, macular degeneration is beginning its’ attack on the function of the macula. Your retina may look healthy, but fatty deposits are accumulating within. These fatty deposits will disrupt normal cell function, including the cells that are responsible for your eyes’ ability to adapt to changes in illumination. When these don’t receive enough nutrients like Vitamin A, your cells will face irreversible damage and die. The result? Trouble seeing at night, known as impaired dark adaptation. Furthermore, these fatty deposits, at this stage, are often undetectable with eye care imaging technology but can be detected by testing your eyes with a dark adaptometer. Eye care professionals can do this by measuring how long it takes for your eyes to adjust from bright light to darkness.
In fact, your doctor can treat macular degeneration before changes in your retina can be seen. By evaluating how your retina is working and measuring the speed of dark adaptation using the AdaptDx® dark adaptometer, your doctor may be able to detect the presence of macular degeneration at least three years earlier than they are able to with current imaging techniques.
“One of the great things about AdaptDx dark adaptation testing is that it’s very straightforward to understand.
It’s basically a yes-or-no test. If somebody has impaired dark adaptation, we know with 90% sensitivity and specificity that the patient has macular degeneration.”
– Dr. Damon Dierker (Indianapolis, IN)
Studies show that proactive diagnosis and treatment at the early stages of the disease (subclinical macular degeneration) helps to slow down disease progression and maintain visual acuity. In other words, don’t ignore changes with your dark adaptation and definitely do not wait until you experience vision loss to take action.
Simple lifestyle changes can have a significant impact in fighting this disease and push vision loss down the road for years. Some of these changes can be as simple as the following:
- Implementing small changes to your diet – think Mediterranean!
- Exercising – Studies have shown that walking two city blocks daily can have a positive impact.
- Quitting smoking – Smoking is the number 1 modifiable risk factor for macular degeneration.
- Taking anti-oxidant supplements
C is for Call your doctor
Now that you understand why it is so important to pay attention to changes in your dark adaptation, it’s time to schedule a visit with your eye doctor. Tell them that you’re having trouble seeing at night. Your doctor can measure the speed of dark adaptation with the AdaptDx, which can be useful in diagnosing AMD before drusen are clinically evident. Subclinical diagnosis is key to nipping this dreaded disease in the bud.
Ask your doctor for an AdaptDx dark adaptation test. Catching macular degeneration earlier could save your sight and all the complications vision loss can cause.
I often sit and reminisce on those days long ago and the passionate, raucous, and quite animated family gatherings. Sadly, the information gathered and shared during those family dinners have now been replaced by take-out and the internet. Arguably, one can debate on which medium provides more reliable information. Nevertheless, information is power. Hopefully, the basic information here will encourage everyone to take control of their eye health for a better future!
Watching my Nonna lose her vision was difficult but now I take great pride in being part of a team that is dedicated to eliminating blindness caused by this devastating eye disease. We now have the tools and knowledge necessary to empower eye care doctors and patients alike for a brighter future.
After all, preserving your sight can be as simple as ABC.
Are you having trouble seeing at night? It may be time to schedule an appointment with your eye care provider to test for macular degeneration.
About the Author
Armond is a 28-year veteran of medical instrument companies with US and international experience. He has consistently led corporate growth in a variety of sales strategy and leadership positions with Forus Health, Fukuda Denshi, Heidelberg Engineering, Draeger Medical, Cardinal Health/Alaris and Johnson & Johnson. Armond earned a BS in nursing from Western Connecticut State University and an MBA in international management from Columbia Southern University.