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A Huge Threat To The Baby Boom Generation -- "MACULAR DEGENERATION"
As the decades pass and the baby-boom generation begins to move more closely toward retirement, the viability of social security is not the only issue that should be cause for concern to this huge segment of the U.S. population. While the "boomers" may be envisioning luxurious Golden Years, those visions could, quite literally, fade to black due to the threat of macular degeneration unless adequate treatments are found to stop this insidious, blinding condition in its tracks. RP International, while fighting the hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa, is also fervently committed to battling against macular degeneration, which threatens even more millions of Americans every year.
Macular degeneration is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment of the elderly, and is often part of the body's aging process. It is the term generally applied to describe a damage or breakdown of the macula of the eye -- the small, central point of the light-sensing retina located in the back of the eye. The macula is critical in processing the sharp central vision needed for reading, sewing, tinkering with gadgetry and other up-close, detail-oriented tasks.
Not unlike other diseases, this debilitating condition can cause different symptoms in different people . When the macula loses its full function, a person may experience blurred vision or other visual distortions in the center of his or her vision. Colors can look dim, and words on a page can blur and run together in patches. There may even be an empty patch in the middle of the vision, as if someone erased it. Sometimes, only one eye loses vision, while the other continues to function well for many years. However, when both eyes become affected, the impact on the quality of life can be devastating, creating handicaps in the ability to work and/or enjoy many kinds of hobbies and activities, including reading. The person may even become legally blind.
The two most common age-related forms of macular degeneration are known as "dry" or "wet." Dry macular degeneration is much more common, and is also known as atrophic or involutional (CK) macular degeneration.
This condition is caused by the aging or thinning of the tissues of the macula and usually manifests itself through the gradual loss of vision. In contrast, "wet" macular degeneration (also known as exudative or hemmorrhagic) can create severe and rapid vision loss. It refers to the condition when abnormal blood vessels form at the back of the eye and leak fluid or blood into the eye. These fluids distort and blur the central vision , and can create thick scar tissue in the macula. "Wet" macular degeneration accounts for about only 10% of age-related macular degeneration cases.
It should also be noted that there are still other forms of macular degeneration, such as an inherited type that strikes juveniles. In addition, infection, inflammation, injury or extreme near-sightedness may also damage the macula, causing similar debilitating vision problems.
Fortunately, research is being done that shows promise in eventually leading to a treatment for age-related macular degeneration, often known as AMD. Studies have shown that the condition tends to run in families, with a watershed 1997 scientific paper revealing that family members of patients with AMD are more than twice as likely to develop the disease than those with no prior family history of it. Therefore, the belief is that AMD is a largely genetically inherited condition, which could eventually be treated through gene therapy.
Genetic linkage analysis is a tool which allows researchers to isolate genes associated with retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration and Usher's Syndrome. In a study published in 1998, researchers "mapped" a gene causing an autosomal dominant form of AMD to chromosome 1. Gene mapping is a means of determining which of the 23 paired chromosomes contain a gene with a mutation that causes disease.
In the meantime, ophthamologists recommend periodic eye exams for people over 50, particularly if they have a family history of retinal problems. Early detection, as in the case of many disease, can lead to more effective treatment until a "cure" is found. RP International continues to be on the leading edge in providing vital information to the public about macular degeneration, retinis pigmentosa and other blinding eye conditions. Besides raising funds to support badly needed research, the charity supports programs that enhance the quality of life for the visually challenged right now. These programs include TheatreVision™, which "describes" hit movies, television and stage shows for the visually impaired, as well as providing these individuals with information as to the type of "Low Vision" aids available in the marketplace, including "talking computers" equipped with Braille keyboards.
For more information about RP International and its activities in fighting macular degeneration, call 1-800 FIGHT RP.
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