Losing My Eyesight to Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
I am losing my vision to a thief called AMD, or age-related macular degeneration. I am the third generation in my family and the youngest to be diagnosed with AMD. I was diagnosed at the age of 52. There is no treatment for this thief that is stealing my vision—no magic pills, no surgical cure, no action I can take to stop the thief. At best, I can fight to slow him down but in the end, he will win.
It's been said that you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone. I didn't appreciate my vision when I was young. But now, well, it's beginning to sink in that I'm losing it. Time has become more precious than ever. I am a visual person—one who loves nature, one who can spend hours looking for images in the clouds, one who sees natural landscapes as God's artistry. I am the person who loves color and can lose myself in the colors of a sunset. I am the one who sees who you are before you tell me who you are. It's in the eyes, and I am losing mine.
Wikipedia defines AMD as an eye disease that causes loss of central vision due to retinal damage.
The American Macular Degeneration Foundation describes it as an incurable eye disease that it is the leading cause of blindness for those aged 55 and older in the United States, affecting more than 10 million Americans.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) generally defines AMD as a common eye condition among people age 50 and older that gradually destroys the macula, which is the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision needed for seeing objects clearly.
What they are all trying to say is that AMD steals the part of your vision that allows you to recognize faces in a crowd or read the labels on the grocery store shelves; and that there is nothing you can do about it. Well, you can't cure it, but there are things you can do. We'll talk about that later.
My AMD Symptoms
I'll speak from personal experience because this is what I know with certainty. My relationship with macular degeneration has evolved. We are not friends. I won't pretend that I will ever be okay about having this disease. It is a silent thief; one that sneaks up on you and does its damage before you can chase it away. When I began having trouble reading the newspaper, I blamed it on my Type II diabetes. Blurred vision is a symptom of diabetes and something that happens occasionally when my blood glucose is a little too high or low. I wasn't concerned.
A week or so went by and the vision was just off. Nothing looked really crisp or focused anymore, and everything seemed a little too dull. This was more than an out-of-balance blood glucose level, and I knew it. Since I hadn't seen my eye doctor for a while I made an appointment. After the usual preliminary tests, my eyes were dilated, and the doctor used his magic tools to look at the back of my eye. What escaped from his lips was shocking. One word, a simple word, but a powerful word. He said... "Wow." Then, he backed away and looked at me for a fraction of a minute before giving me the news. I had macular degeneration, and it was the worst he had ever seen in someone my age.
When he thought the dust in my brain had settled a bit, he went on to explain that there are two types of macular degeneration: the wet and the dry. The wet can be treated with injections or laser surgery to restore the loss of vision, but there is no treatment for the dry type. At best he recommended I start a strict regimen of vitamins from Science Based Health that are a blend of vitamins, anti-oxidants, and zinc. The doctor went on to explain that I would eventually lose my central vision. I would retain some peripheral vision, allowing me to manage in my living space, but I would eventually need help with detail work, such as reading and paying bills. This condition would also eventually rob me of my independence. At some point in the future when the disease had progressed, I would have to stop driving. That is my biggest fear.
Normal vs. AMD Vision
My Current Status
So far, so good. I have lost central vision in one eye but continue to have 20/30 vision in the other. I am able to manage all aspects of my day-to-day living with the help of glasses and magnifiers (in every room of my house). The image above demonstrates how my vision has changed. The "E" on the left is what I see with my good eye and the one on the right accurately illustrates how my affected eye sees things.
Although I have adapted, there is one very frustrating aspect of my current status. I can no longer see faces with my affected eye. It makes recognizing friends (and even family) very difficult and is sometimes embarrassing.
The loss of depth perception is also troublesome. Did you know you need both eyes to have accurate depth perception? I did not know this until I developed this condition. Again, you don't appreciate it until it's gone.
Straight lines are no longer straight. It is part of the disease. For those diagnosed with AMD, it is important to check your vision daily for significant changes. The recommended method is the use of the Amsler Grid (see image below). The Amsler grid is a box containing a series of lines. A normal-vision person will see the lines as straight. AMD causes the lines to be distorted, blurred, or even missing in some part of the grid.
Amsler Grid for Daily Testing
Where There Is Light, There Is Hope
For many of us with AMD, bright light and low-vision aids are tools that enable us to manage day-to-day tasks. What sustains us though is the hope that researchers will soon find a cure for this silent thief. Until that day, we cope as best we can, using tools that are available. It is reassuring to know that age-related macular degeneration will not render us totally blind. We will live with diminished vision and limited mobility. The journey into this blurred and sometimes fragmented world has taught me to appreciate every minute that I can see the sky, or the colors of the shadows on the mountains. A smile or twinkle in a loved one’s eye means so much more today than it did before my diagnosis. I have concerns for the future, but not fear. There is a difference.
Hope for the Future
If there is anything I would say to someone with a new diagnosis of macular degeneration it would be this. Don't feel hopeless and do not think that a diagnosis means that you are going totally blind. That was my misconception for a couple of years.
For every day that you wake to view a sunrise, or end the day with a smile from your loving family, there are scientists working to find a cure for AMD. Put your efforts into living here and now—and if you want to do something, start advocating for more research funding. Most importantly, cherish each and every day. None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, and it can always bring something worse than AMD. Macular degeneration is not a death sentence, but it can be the catalyst for setting new priorities.
© 2012 Linda Crist