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Preventing the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans

More than half of people over the age of 50 are unaware of Age-Related Macular Degeneration or AMD. It's the leading cause of blindness in older adults.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Age-Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, is the leading cause of blindness in older adults. But less than 40% of people aged 50 and older are even aware of it.

Sacramento resident Norine Mullen was diagnosed with stage 1 AMD in 2013 after a routine eye exam. She says it came as a surprise.

"Was rather alarming at first to hear that, but I had no symptoms, and I thought, well, gee, this is kind of unusual to be told this," Mullen said.

There aren't many symptoms in the first stage of the disease, but as it progresses to stage three it becomes more noticeable. Just last year, Mullen found out her AMD reached stage two. She's encouraging everyone to stay on top of their preventative visits.

"Without having that eye exam and having the knowledge of having this disease, there's nothing you're doing to help yourself, so I would encourage people to get a good exam on a yearly basis," Mullen said. 

UC Davis Eye Center Professor of Ophthalmology Dr. Glenn Yiu shared some of the signs.

"Usually when lines don't look straight or if there's like a little distortion or jaggedness to it, or if just reading, having difficulty seeing those sharp — those letters very sharply," Yiu said.

Treatment starts with lifestyle changes. Doctors recommend a healthy diet, keeping active and taking a vitamin referred to as AREDS. Later, you could need injections. UC Davis is looking into gene therapy as a new form of treatment. 

"Rather than injecting medicines into the eye every month or every other month, it actually injects a gene therapy into the eye that allows the eye to make its own drug, so in that way, theoretically your eye can become a factory for the drug and you would not need any more injections for theoretically forever," Yiu said. "It's a very exciting new development in our field and where actually UC Davis is hosting two different clinical trials using gene therapy for macular degeneration currently."

Dr. Yiu says if you have a family history of AMD, you can start a healthy diet and exercise routine now. That means eating leafy green vegetables and oily fish, not smoking and wearing sunscreen. He said all of this can slow the progression of the disease. 

If you want to learn more about AMD visit this website.

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