As its International Awareness Week ends, year-round AMD surveillance must occur

Although International Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Week is coming to a close, a registered charity in Canada, CNIB, is reminding physicians and patients across the globe that vision care is imperative beyond this seven-day stint — it’s a year-round, lifelong commitment.

“AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in North America. It is possible for people to have AMD without being aware of it,” Keith D. Gordon PhD, MSc (Epid.), vice president of research at CNIB and adjunct professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences, University of Toronto, told PhysBizTech.

The paramount perpetrator of vision loss in Canada is AMD, CNIB experts say, with approximately one million Canadians suffering from some form of the disease currently — a number expected to double over the next 25 years.

“A study conducted in collaboration with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and CNIB in Canada showed that the cost of AMD in Canada was $1.9 billion per year in 2007 dollars. This breaks down to $1.1 billion in direct health costs and $786 million in indirect costs,” Gordon said.

Despite such prominence of AMD in Canada and amongst the Caucasian population, Gordon was adamant that medical experts and professionals from all countries be concerned.

“While AMD is more prevalent in Caucasian populations it is not insignificant in other countries, and AMD Alliance is active in creating awareness of the disease throughout the world. A study conducted on behalf of AMD Alliance International estimated the cost of AMD globally to be $300 billion. For financial reasons alone, it seems essential that attention be paid to AMD throughout the world,” he said.

Furthermore “the cost in the U.S. is likely to be significantly higher on a per capita basis [than Canadian costs]. The impact that this has on both the healthcare system and society as a whole is significant. Controlling vision loss due to prevention and treatment of AMD will contribute in a large way to savings to the healthcare system and to reducing the psycho-social impact of AMD,” Gordon continued.

When asked about the tasks individual physicians can integrate into their practices to better address AMD, Gordon cited the following:

  1. Encourage patients to quit smoking.
  2. Encourage regular eye examinations particularly for people with a family history of AMD.
  3. Encourage healthy eating and exercise.
  4. Encourage patients to wear sunglasses when outside, summer and winter.
  5. Encourage everyone to tell their friends and neighbours about AMD. Awareness levels are much too low.

With cases of AMD, early diagnosis is key. Thus, Gordon and CNIB suggested both physicians and patients (predominantly those of 50 years of age) consider the below risk factors:

  • AMD has a genetic link; people with a family history of AMD (first degree relatives with AMD) have a higher risk of developing AMD. Physicians should advise their patients that if AMD is in the family, they should make sure they have regular eye examinations with an eye doctor. How regular, will depend on their eye doctor.
  • Primary and second-hand smoke are major risk factors for the development of AMD. Going blind is just one more reason for people to quit smoking and one more reason for physicians to nag their patients to quit.
  • Many of the risk factors for the development of AMD are similar to those for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Patients should be encouraged to eat well and avoid diets rich in saturated fats and high in leafy greens, anti-oxidants and fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Regular exercise and a reasonable body weight also reduce the risk of developing AMD.
  • Long-term exposure to sunlight increases the risk of developing AMD. Patients should be encouraged to wear sunglasses. It is never too soon to start. Little children should wear sunglasses too. All sunglasses should be labeled as absorbing 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation.

Treatment and lifestyle alterations should be made accordingly: "Whether it's learning about how to minimize risk, becoming more proactive about treatment or accessing vital support services, the guide will help to empower people with AMD to live full, meaningful lives and truly see beyond vision loss," Gordon concluded in a press release.