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University of Iowa News Release

Release: Feb. 2, 2004

Hope For Those With Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of irreversible visual impairment in patients over age 50 in the United States. Although there currently is no cure, there is hope for those with AMD.

As part of Age-Related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision Awareness Month in February, James Folk, M.D., University of Iowa professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, urges people to be screened for age-related vision problems by having regular eye exams and talking with their eye doctor about new treatments and low vision resources that are available.

"The early stages of macular degeneration are easily detectable by a dilated eye examination. Knowing that one is mildly affected with this disease allows a person and their doctor to be more vigilant for changes that could be treated with existing methods," Folk said.

Macular degeneration is a progressive, usually painless disease that affects the macula, the central portion of the retina at the back of the eye responsible for central vision, causing central vision to blur but leaving peripheral vision intact. Sometimes, AMD also causes a distortion of the vision in that straight edges are bent or images are distorted in addition to being blurry. Thus, it is extremely uncommon for AMD to lead to total blindness.

"We are continuing to seek new treatments for people with AMD," Folk said. "At the University of Iowa, we are studying the genetics of macular degeneration in an attempt to understand its basic causes. We believe that if we can understand the basic causes of the disease, we will be able to develop a safe, low-cost preventive treatment that will be useful on a societal scale."

Central vision loss does not have to mean loss of independence or quality of life. If you have lost some of your central vision, consult specialists such as Mark Wilkinson, O.D., director of Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

"There are many treatment options available to enhance visual functioning for individuals who have experienced a loss of vision," Wilkinson said. "Treatment options vary from individual to individual and typically encompass more than a new pair of glasses. With the myriad of treatment options available, many of the handicaps caused by a visual impairment can be eliminated or minimized. The majority of individuals affected by macular degeneration can remain independent and perform many of their normal activities of daily life with the help of low vision rehabilitation."

Early detection and treatment is the best defense against losing your vision. Thus, it is a good idea to see your eye specialist for a complete eye exam at least every one to two years.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

CONTACT(S): Tom Moore, 319-356-3945, thomas-moore@uiowa.edu.