9 Ways to Help a Loved One With Wet AMD
Losing your vision is scary. It can also be life-changing. For those living with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 50, blurred or distorted vision can make it harder to read the newspaper, watch TV, drive to work, or even recognize a loved one. Although high-tech tools have made it easier to diagnose and treat AMD in its early stages, there is no cure. Caregivers must often step in to provide support. Read on to learn how you can best assist someone with this condition.
Know the Difference Between Wet vs. Dry
The “dry” form of AMD is more common, affecting 90% of the 11 million Americans with the disease. In 10% of cases it progresses to “wet” AMD, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina leak blood. Wet AMD is a much more progressive form of it, with sudden vision loss sometimes occurring, says Brian S. McKay, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. Early treatment is key to effectively halt the progression of vision loss. Encourage your loved one to visit an ophthalmologist to monitor any changes to the retina.
Learn the Symptoms of Wet AMD
Understanding what your loved one is experiencing may better prepare you to lend support, says Peter Campochiaro, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Wilmer Eye Institute Macular Degeneration Center in Baltimore. Both the wet and dry versions of the disease affect the macula, the part of the retina that controls central vision. Your loved one might notice symptoms such as blurred vision, straight lines appearing wavy or bent, decreased brightness of colors, and reduced central vision, which can make it tough to read or recognize faces. To monitor symptoms at home, use an Amsler grid (more on this next) to detect any vision changes early.
Hang Up an Amsler Grid
Wet AMD can affect both eyes, but it often occurs in one eye at a time, says Dr. Campochiaro. Your relative might not notice vision changes because the “good” eye takes over and overcompensates. Help monitor vision changes by posting an Amsler grid on the refrigerator. This black and white grid with a dot in the center was designed specifically to help patients catch AMD-related vision changes. Encourage your loved one to look at it daily. If the waves become wavy or disappear from their field of view, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist immediately.
Go to Eye Injection Appointments
While there is no cure for wet AMD, anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) therapy is an effective treatment to slow the progression of the disease. It involves injecting medicine into the eyes to stop new blood vessels from growing. Your loved one may need the shots every few weeks or every few months—every case is different. “There is some discomfort [involved in treatment],” Dr. Campochiaro admits, “so compliance can be an issue. But if you don't get injections as frequently as needed, vision will gradually go down.” Offer to go with your loved one to all injection appointments to lend support.
Be Vigilant About Related Conditions
As a caregiver, helping a loved one get the right treatments and monitoring any vision loss might be your main focus—but it’s important to watch for other risk factors, too. Research has linked wet AMD with an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. In addition to regular visits to see the ophthalmologist (who will any monitor all vision changes), your loved one should also see your family physician. Ask your GP to screen for other possible health risks.
Be There for Everyday Activities
Even a family member who takes pride in his or her independence might need help with tasks such as working on the computer, reading mail, cooking, and driving. Offer rides to medical appointments or schedule deliveries of groceries and medications. Dr. McKay also suggests making an appointment with a low-vision specialist who can help optimize lighting and computer fonts and suggest other simple changes to improve the home environment for someone living with AMD. To find one near you, ask your loved one’s ophthalmologist for a referral.
Monitor Mental Health
Depression is common among those living with AMD. A study published in the journal Clinical Ophthalmology found that 39% of those with AMD also suffered with depression. Watch for signs of mental distress, including fatigue, low mood, spending more time at home, and giving up favorite activities. “Pay attention and if you notice changes, get them help,” Campochiaro says. Ask your loved one’s GP for a referral to a therapist. The Macular Society is on hand, too, to give advice about counseling and local support groups.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
Research suggests that adopting healthy habits may help slow the progression of AMD. Quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a nutritious diet can help reduce risk factors for AMD, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and obesity. Even if you don’t live with your loved one, drop off a healthy meal, or set up a weekly schedule to take brisk walks together. Then try to get the whole family to adopt healthier habits—you’ll provide support to your loved one while making lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of developing AMD as you age.
Offer to Listen—No Matter What
Show your loved one empathy and patience as he or she learns to navigate their world with vision loss, which may feel overwhelming. “It can be a devastating disease,” McKay says. Listen to your family member’s fears, and say you’ll always be there, come what may. “There are things that you can do to help a family member deal with low vision but understanding the fear—and maintaining a positive mental attitude—always helps,” adds McKay.