Elderly blind-sided by eye disease

As the first wave of the Baby Boom generation washes up against the reality of being senior citizens, the debate continues about limiting driving privileges of older Americans, although elderly drivers tend to be more cautious and observant of rules of the road. But age—specifically aging eyes—can play a factor in driving ability, said Reza Haque, M.D., spokesman for Novartis Opthalmics North America, maker of Visudyne ®, a treatment for a certain form of wet, age-related mascular degeneration (AMD). “Senior citizens are affected by some eye diseases that steal sight so gradually that people literally do not realize they have “black holes” in their field of vision.” Studies have shown that, after a certain age, a person’s driving abilities can become diminished. “We are already seeing the demographic effects of aging Baby Boomers, who could also be called the ‘car generation,’” said Haque. “According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of drivers over age 70 increased 39 percent from 1990 to 2000.” Although some states require elderly drivers to take eye exams before renewing their licenses, not all do. “However,” says Haque. “Comprehensive eye exams are the only way to detect the initial stages of serious eye diseases like glaucoma and age-related mascular degeneration.” “AMD and glaucoma do not necessarily manifest themselves by any signs or symptoms,” said Haque. “They gradually steal our vision until it is too late to salvage it. These diseases affect older people who might not be aware they are at risk. These people literally do not realize they are going blind, but both of these diseases—if caught early—can be treated and managed.” AMD, the number one cause of blindness in people over the age of 50, is a disease of the retina. Because it usually starts in one eye, the other eye compensates for the loss of vision. “A driver can have central vision loss and not realize it,” says Haque. “Central vision is the vision for our everyday needs like driving a car, recognizing faces, reading, and watching television.” There are two forms of AMD, the wet form and the dry form. The wet form is the most devastating because loss of vision can occur very rapidly, even within months.

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