The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has declared February Age-related Macular Degeneration month – and for good reason. Awareness of the disease is low considering the fact that Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among older Americans, according to the AAO.
Early Stages of the Disease are Often Asymptomatic
Early detection is a critical first step because AMD often begins damaging the macular area of the retina years before symptoms are noticed. That’s why annual comprehensive dilated eye exams conducted by an ophthalmologist are so important for anyone over the age of 50.
With the nearly 70 million members of the Boomer generation past this age-threshold, the prevalence of vision loss is a growing concern for those providing care to seniors. Unfortunately, most people take their eye health for granted – until they begin to lose their vision. Informing residents and their families about the importance of regular exams is a key strategy to avoiding unnecessary vision loss from AMD.
Early Treatment for AMD Helps Seniors Improve Quality of Life
Left untreated, AMD brings the usual collateral damage of declining vision, including significant disability, loss of independence, and declining quality of life. Because AMD harms the central area of the retina, it creates a “hole” in the center of the patient’s vision, making critical activities like reading and driving difficult, if not impossible. Left with only peripheral vision, an individual with advanced AMD may have trouble making phone calls, writing checks, or reading medicine bottles. He or she is also likely to be extremely limited in engaging with hobbies like knitting, playing cards, painting, or watching television.
A national survey conducted by the National Eye Institute showed how important vision is to older Americans. When asked to rank the impact of the loss of vision among the loss of memory, hearing, or a limb, 70% said vision loss would have the most negative effect on their quality of life.
People tend to assume that loss of vision is a normal part of aging. However, while some diminishing of visual ability is to be expected, blindness is abnormal in those who receive proper eye care in their later years.
Barbara Horn, a doctor of optometry and president of the American Optometric Association, emphasizes the importance of that care, including in skilled nursing facilities. “Prompt diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems can keep people seeing at their optimum level for a lifetime…. Nursing facilities must recognize the role of comprehensive eye care and reach out to local doctors of optometry to either obtain onsite services, provide staff and family education or develop a plan to increase access to eye care for their residents.”
February is a Good Month to Take Stock of Your Vision Care Protocols
With the AAO marking February as AMD Awareness month, take advantage of the opportunity to remind staff, residents, and their families of the importance of annual exams. Early detection and regular exams go a long way to helping seniors optimize their vision as they age.
Families and residents may also find it helpful knowing that even those without an immediate vision issue would likely benefit from adding vision coverage as a JAMA Ophthalmology study found 92% of individuals over the age of 65 need at least eyeglasses for distance or near-vision correction.
Services are available that support these vision health goals. Onsite care management companies, like Aria Care Partners, offer skilled, credentialed providers who are trained to work with residents who have trouble communicating. This way, their providers can serve as an extension of your facility’s care team. Serving as an extension of your care team, Aria also manages appointments, paperwork, progress reports, and billing.
Proactive and preventative vision care improves residents’ quality of daily life, prevents falls, and for skilled nursing facilities, helps maintain compliance.