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What Causes Macular Degeneration & Can it be Prevented?

What Causes Macular Degeneration & Can it be Prevented?

It’s no secret that your vision may change as you age. What’s not as well known is that there are many types of vision loss and what each is caused by. Here’s what seniors and family caregivers should know about one of the most common types of eye disease, macular degeneration.

What is Macular Degeneration?

One common vision problem seniors develop is macular degeneration. It affects the central part of the retina that’s responsible for visual acuity. This area, called the macula, helps you distinguish faces, watch television, drive, use a computer, and read. As you age, the macula may degenerate, which could prevent you from seeing fine details.

More than 2 million people had age-related macular degeneration in 2010.  It is among the most common vision-related diseases in the U.S., affecting around 14 percent of the white population aged 80 and older. Macular degeneration affects more than two percent of all Americans aged 50 and over.

While there is no known cure for macular degeneration, understanding what causes it and what signs to look for can help determine your risks and help you or a loved one prepare for its effects.

Types of Macular Degeneration

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: wet and dry.

  • Wet AMD (neovascular) means that new blood vessels have grown in areas where they shouldn’t be, such as the macula.
  • Dry AMD (non-neovascular) is typically age-related. It is the early stage of the disease, where gradual vision loss may occur.

What Causes Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is commonly linked to aging. However, research suggests there may be a genetic component to it. 

Scientists at Duke University noticed that in almost half of all AMD cases, a variant of a gene, called complement factor H and complement factor B, was present. Another variant of a different gene, called complement factor B, is also believed to be linked to the disease.

Additional research shows that oxygen-deprived cells near the retina create a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor. This protein tells the body to create new blood vessels in the retina. This is precisely what VEGF is supposed to do, but creating too many unwanted blood vessels in the retina may cause them to burst open, which can damage the macula and retina.

Who is Prone to the Disease?

Aside from the disease affecting mostly aging white individuals, obesity or lack of physical activity can more than double your risk. High blood pressure also increases your chances. A British study found that smoking was directly related to 25 percent of AMD cases with severe vision loss, and those living with a smoker doubled their chances of developing the disease.

How to Prevent Macular Degeneration

Currently, there are no treatments for dry AMD. However, many medical professionals recommend eating healthy foods and wearing protective sunglasses to help prevent developing early dry AMD. 

Some studies show that diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, may help lessen the risk of the disease.

Regular visits to your eye doctor can help catch the disease early before you experience symptoms. If he or she believes you might be developing dry or wet AMD, you may need to undergo further testing to determine the severity.

While you might not be able to avoid or treat macular degeneration, there are aids and devices available to help those with low vision perform ordinary tasks. Lifestyle adjustments may be necessary as the disease progresses, but many people have learned to live with the symptoms–and you can, too. 

More Resources for You or a Senior Loved One

At Five Star Senior Living, we care about seniors and their family caregivers. That’s why we created this informative senior care blog. We know that it can serve as a resource for older Americans and their families

The Five Star Senior Living blog articles tackle a myriad of healthy aging and caregiving topics like this several times each week. We hope you will bookmark it and stop back often

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