Risk Factors Of Macular Degeneration

macular degeneration

Macular degeneration causes the central field of vision to be blurred.
Image Credit: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
Ref#: EDS05

Visual disturbances, like blurred and double vision, are just some of the most common degenerative changes that a person experiences as he grows older. A fairly common visual disorder that develops as one ages is macular degeneration, which is characterized by loss of central vision needed to focus on objects clearly. Patients with macular degeneration prefer reading from a distance.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

The macula is a structure that is responsible for sharp focus of images and color identification. Around which are the rods and cones which are responsible for night vision. These two structures are both found in the retina, with the former at the center. The retina is the part of the eye that receives the visual signals and sends these signals to the brain via the optic nerves. Damage to the retina may lead to blurring of vision, or worse, blindness.

The cause of macular degeneration is still under study. What is known are the symptoms and risk factors of macular degeneration. Just like other degenerative diseases, the risk factors of macular degeneration can be modifiable and non-modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors are those that cannot be prevented, while the modifiable risk factors are usually lifestyle- related. One of the non-modifiable risk factors is age.


Age Related

Age is considered to be the greatest risk factor to macular degeneration. As mentioned earlier, this is most common among the elderly, usually those beyond 60 years of age. Age-related macular degeneration may be attributed to loss of function or destruction of the cells and receptors located in the macular or due to a disruption in the network of blood vessels supplying the retina.

Other non-modifiable risk factors include race and family history. Caucasians and those who have this disease in the family are more prone to develop macular degeneration.

Smoking, Obesity, High Fat Diet

On the other hand, modifiable risk factors include smoking, obesity, high fat diet, and high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Smoking is said to be a risk factor as it causes constriction of blood vessels, especially those that are located in the eyes. This, in turn, can compromise the blood flow and the delivery of oxygen to the retina, predisposing this part of the eye to damage and dysfunction. This is the same reason why high levels of cholesterol and obesity increase the risk for macular degeneration.

Because the macula is responsible for focusing visual stimuli, damage to this structure initially presents as blurred vision. Images may appear distorted and discolored. The patient may also experience difficulty in driving, as well as in reading. These problems initially resolve with better lighting. The person may still perform his daily chores and activities, like walking and washing the dishes. As time goes on, the blurring of vision and visual disturbances progresses and the person may experience the presence of a dark spot at the center of his visual field.

Macular Degeneration & The Risks Of Falling

Studies have shown that macular degeneration can increase the risks of falling down for seniors. A 2008 study (by Szabo SM et al), on 150 women aged 70 and above with aged-related macular degeneration, found that there was an increased risk of falling for seniors. The increased risks was associated with poor vision, slower reaction times and impaired balance. A 2014 study by S W van Landingham et al concluded that aged-related macular degeneration was associated with a greater fear of falling in seniors. It appears that the falls result not just due to actual physical physiological factors, but an increased fear of it happening.

Elderly Fall Prevention At Home

Due to the risks of falling, the elderly with macular degeneration can benefit from living in a home that is fall-proofed. This can include removing clutter quickly and regularly or adding extra hand rails to stairs and near the bath or shower. More of this is discussed int these 10 Fall Prevention Tips For The Elderly.

Seniors living on their own with the condition often find medical alarm systems helpful in case they fall and need assistance. Not only will a system like this help the elderly if they should fall and can’t get up on their own, it also provides everyday assurance that help is just a click away if something happens. Being assured that help is readily available helps to relief the fear of falling.

Seniors who live with their children or have caregivers can benefit from a medical alert system for the extra help and 24/7 monitoring. Their children and caregivers may find the addition of bed alarms and motion sensors helpful in alerting them quickly when their elderly parent or patient needs help.

Treatments

The treatments of this degenerative eye condition may range from simple vitamin supplements to laser surgery. Mild forms of the condition may be treated with supplements of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, zinc and beta- carotene. On the other hand, more severe forms of the disease is usually treated with surgical procedures and pharmacological interventions. This includes anti-angiogenic medicines which are prescribed by medical professionals and opthalmologists to decrease the development of new blood vessels in the eyes.

For more information, check out these Tips on Macular Degeneration Prevention.

 

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