Advice for Seniors with Vision Loss

Treating macular degeneration -- America’s number one cause of age-related blindness.

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The Boomerater™ Report, our weekly collaboration with online baby boomer resource Boomerater, this week explores current and future treatments for macular degeneration, America’s number one cause of age-related blindness. “I was just diagnosed with macular degeneration,” a Boomerater member asks. “Anyone have experience with this disease? Are there any treatments that work? I’ve never had a problem with my eyes and this came from out of the blue.” Here is what some of our members said:

Personal experience with macular degeneration. I have macular degeneration (MD) in both eyes. The Amsler grid is used to determine if you have MD. When I look at the grid with just my right eye all of the lines of the grid seem straight and clear. With my left eye the lines are wavy and distorted. My ophthalmologist diagnosed macular degeneration and sent me to a retina specialist. My mother and both of her siblings had MD, so I was genetically predisposed to get it. The retina specialist took pictures of my macula, the central part of the retina that provides for sharp, clear vision. The pictures showed I had “dry” MD in my right eye, and “wet” in my left. Wet is the worse of the two. Both eyes have “drusens,” which are yellow deposits under the retina. These are early signs of MD but they alone don’t cause severe vision loss. The center of my left retina has a protuberance that is distorting my vision. [See Double-Digit Medical Expense Trend to Continue.]

Every six weeks I have Lucentis injections in the white part of my left eye. Sounds like it would hurt, but it really doesn’t. They numb the eye before the injection. After the injection I use antibiotic drops for three days to protect against infection. At each visit the doctor takes more pictures to check for change in my left eye. Unfortunately, there’s been no improvement. But it hasn’t gotten worse, so maybe injections have held off progression of the disease. The injections are very costly, so make sure your insurance company agrees to pay before you take them. I also take “AREDS” which is a vitamin complex very rich in eye nutrients. And I take lutein, long considered helpful for eye health. My new glasses include a prism in my left lens that has helped a lot for my distant vision. My reading glasses don’t help much; I actually read better with my left eye closed.

There is an important conference for retina specialists in New York next month. I am hoping to learn results of recent clinical trials to determine other treatment options. I read that vitamin B complex and folic acid have been somewhat effective, but the test results were not at all conclusive. I’m taking them just in case they can help. There are so many researchers working on finding a cure, I'm sure it won't be too long. Good luck and keep your spirits up.

Use this downloadable Amsler grid. It’s important that anyone diagnosed with macular degeneration check their eyes with the Amsler grid daily and report any changes to the eye doctor. This site also has the latest news articles on the disease. By the way, smokers are 2½ times more likely to get macular degeneration—one more reason to kick the habit.

[See Eat Less Food and Play More Bridge.]

Exciting new research offers hope for a cure. I also have macular degeneration. It is the number one cause of visual loss in the U.S., and as people live longer it is expected to become even more prevalent. I read an online article in The Times entitled “Blind to be cured with stem cells” that gave me lots of hope. In London they are experimenting with laboratory trials on animals, replacing degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells. The trials have been successful. While the therapy may not be available for six or seven years, it is encouraging that Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical research company, will produce the artificial membranes on which the embryonic stem cells are placed. Also it appears the treatment may take less than an hour as an outpatient procedure.

Read other advice from boomers about macular degeneration on Boomerater. Boomerater is an online resource for baby boomers, with local directories to help you find everything from a financial planner to retirement communities. The site also contains forums where boomers can post questions and swap first-hand experiences. If there are questions on your mind that you would like answered by other people who have faced similar situations, or you have advice of your own to share, go to Boomerater.com and participate in the forums. Say that The Best Life sent you.

[See How the 'Old Old' Can Have Best Lives.]