What is AMD?

Age-related Macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition affecting as many as 15 million Americans and millions more around the world. The disease attacks the macula of the eye, where our sharpest central vision occurs. This is the vision we use to drive, read, recognize faces and perform daily tasks. AMD does not cause complete blindness, only central blindness. It spares the peripheral vision (around the edges), leaving only dim images or black holes at the center of vision.

AMD is the number one cause of severe vision loss and legal blindness in adults over 60 in the U.S. It escalates with age. It affects 14%-24% of the U.S. population aged 65-74 years and 35 – 40% of people aged 74 years or more have the disease. In other words, more than one person in three can develop signs of age-related macular degeneration, with over 200,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

There are two types of AMD – “wet” or neovascular and “dry” or atrophic. There is no cure for AMD, but treatments are available for the wet form of the disease. There is no treatment for the dry form, but research will likely produce some treatments in the coming years. Even with vision loss, training and special devices can promote independence and a return to favorite activities.

Age-related macular degeneration destroys the clear, “straight ahead” central vision necessary for reading, driving, identifying faces, watching television, doing fine detailed work, safely navigating stairs and performing other daily tasks we take for granted. It can make it more difficult to see contrast and can change the way color is seen. Peripheral vision may not be affected, and it is possible to see “out of the corner of your eye”. Vision rehabilitation and assistive devices can help people use their remaining vision effectively. The impact of developing AMD can be devastating to those who were independent and active prior to the onset of this impairment. Their visual world gradually diminishes into a vague blur, making ordinary daily activities challenging.

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An Illustration of The Eye (provided by the National Eye Institute)The human retina is made up of layers of cells that line the entire inside of the globe of the eye.The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina, located in the very center of the retina. When light strikes the back of the eye, the cells of the macula and the rest of the retina send electrical signals to the brain through the optic nerve which leads to the brain. The brain translates the electrical signals into the images we see. It is about the size of the head of a straight pin and contains millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, detailed central vision. If the macula is damaged, the images received by the brain are distorted or not clear.