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Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration is an eye disease that causes loss of central vision, leaving only peripheral, or side, vision intact. It is the leading cause of blindness for people over 50 in New Zealand.

What is the Macula? The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and is responsible for clear central vision.

When cells in this region deteriorate, vision is lost. The condition is called macular degeneration and because it is often related to ageing it is also termed age-related macular degeneration or ARMD.

Early detection is vital The two most common forms of ARMD are dry and wet.

Dry ARMD is the more common form and causes varying degrees of sight loss. In dry ARMD yellow, fatty deposits called drusen collect in the macula making vision grainy and unclear.

Wet ARMD occurs less often (around 12.5% of cases) but can cause very severe loss of sight. In wet ARMD, abnormal, leaky blood vessels develop in the macula and as the disease advances scarring occurs causing irreversible blind spots. Many cases lead to legal blindness.

Early diagnosis by comprehensive eye examination allows you to access appropriate options for treatment, rehabilitation, and support services. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) offers a new therapeutic tool to fight wet AMD and prompt referral is crucial to its success.

Even where degeneration of the eye has occurred, your optometrist will be able to help with spectacles and low vision aids. Retina NZ offers a telephone peer support service for people who have experienced sight loss.

Early detection of any form of ARMD is vital, because lost sight can never be restored.

Dark new plot twist for Colleen McCullough Flying on one eye . . . Colleen McCullough. Photo: Steven Siewert For an author who drafts a novel anywhere from six to 10 times, Colleen McCullough admits to being ill-prepared for her next great challenge - going blind. In the eight months since she was diagnosed with hemorrhagic macular degeneration, she has undergone a little laser therapy, improved her diet somewhat and walked around the house with her eyes closed. Otherwise, being more the ancient Roman "doer" than the equivalent Greek "ponderer", the author of such mega-selling novels as The Thorn Birds, Tim, and the epic Masters of Rome series has marked it down as another bridge to be crossed. And as one of Australia's best-known writers, whose tomes finesse meaty subject matter with accessible prose, she appears less fussed with what might become of her on the other side than whom she might become. "I might turn from Henry James into T.S. Eliot or something," she said yesterday, letting her trademark larrikin humour for a moment dilute serious discussion about her condition. "Henry James was very florid and prolix. T.S. Eliot was very sparse." McCullough was diagnosed with macular degeneration in September during a chance visit to an opthamologist. She has since entered a routine series of "gruelling" six-weekly laser treatments she hopes will stave off the damage done by aberrant blood vessels, which threaten to bleed and destroy more of her left retina, and with it her sight.

She was speaking yesterday as the newly named patron of the Macular Degeneration Foundation Australia, set up by retinal specialists Dr Paul Beaumont and Professor Paul Mitchell, who both trained in ophthalmology at the Prince of Wales Hospital under Fred Hollows.

The foundation says the disease accounts for more than two-thirds of legal blindness in Australia, with more than 800,000 suffering some form of it. The number of sufferers is expected to triple in the next 25 years. McCullough, while urging people to undergo regular and more specific eye checks, said creativity and her connection with society would be her salvation.

"My mother is 95. She began to get [hemorrhagic MD] in her 60s. By the time she was into her early 70s she was blind [and] deaf, too. She had never been an outgoing person and she hadn't got a creative bone in her body, and she retreated into herself and became demented.

"I'm flying on one eye and hoping and hoping and hoping that I keep it for as long as I can, and when it goes it'll go and I'll just have to cross that bridge. "To lose your sight is terrible. I mean, the very concept of it. All the things that one misses . . ." And what of the "things I'd like to have seen or done" but haven't? "Maybe the next thing I'm going to do is drop into a New York travel agency and say 'Find me a tramp steamer that's going through the Straits of Magellan. Of course all the eye specialists will go, 'You can't do that you'll be too far away', and I'll think so what, at least I'll be on the way to doing something."


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