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Living with macular degeneration presents challenges


HILDEN – Imagine being unable to make out faces, unable to read. Imagine having trouble going up and down stairs. These are just some of the problems caused by macular degeneration.

Larry Waldick wears a special magnifier when reading or doing detailed work. He's had to make several adjustments since his eyesight began deteriorating due to macular degeneration.

AMD (age-related macular degeneration) is the leading cause of vision loss in Canada but most know little about the condition, which results in damage to the macula, the central part of the retina.

Larry Waldick, of Hilden, has had AMD for 23 years. He has the dry form, the most common, which takes place when the tissue beneath the retina thins.

"I was an aircraft engineer and I began having trouble working in dark areas," he recalled. "I switched to some other work but then retired early as my sight got worse. I also quit driving."

Only his left eye was affected at first but about two years ago AMD was also found in his right eye.

"It's frustrating when you can't do things you used to," he said. "I had to give up the keyboard because I can't read notes any more. I got a talking phone because I can't see the display."

Sometimes Waldick has trouble identifying people talking to him, their face is so fuzzy.

To try to slow deterioration he takes vitamins and eats a balanced diet. Often, he relies on his wife, Shirley, for help.

Lyla Reid, of Bible Hill, lives with the wet form of AMD, responsible for more of the severe vision loss connected with the condition. In this case, abnormal blood vessels grow behind the retina and bleed, causing damage to the macula.

"I first noticed something was wrong when I was ironing clothes and there was a blurry spot in front of my right eye," she said.

A doctor diagnosed her 18 years ago. As it progressed, she underwent laser treatments.

She later had injection treatments and feels the procedures slowed progress of the disease but during the past two years her sight has deteriorated noticeably.

She had been using a computer with an enlarged display but can no longer see what is on the screen, She must use a talking watch and talking alarm clock and must settle for listening to audio books; once a prolific knitter, she now knits only dish clothes.

"Going up and down steps is hard because I can't see where they end," she said. "I have trouble with curbs, too."

Reid hopes her specialist in Halifax can do something more to save the small amount of sight she has left.

AMD can run in families. Reid had two brothers with it but Waldick does not know of any relatives with the condition.

AMD affects about one million Canadians; about 38,804 of these live in Nova Scotia.

The amsler grid, an AMD test you can do at home, can be downloaded from the CNIB website at www.cnib.ca/amsler .

MACULAR DEGENERATION

SYMPTOMS

• blurred vision

• sensitivity to light

• a blind spot in the centre of vision

• straight lines that appear to be crooked

• decreased contrast.

• it's possible to have AMD without symptoms.

RISK FACTORS

• increased age

• being female

• a family history of AMD

• being Caucasian

• smoking

• exposure to UV rays

• a poor diet.

 

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