Subtle eye disease stealing vision away
Judi Winter just put it down to old age, but it was a silent disease stealing her sight.
The 82-year-old has macular degeneration, a chronic eye disease which can result in gradual loss of central vision, impacting ability to read, drive and even recognise faces.
It is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing into the retina and is New Zealand’s leading cause of blindness.
Winter dismissed the early warning signs as a normal part of the ageing process and she isn’t alone.
Only 67 per cent of people over the age of 50, those most at risk, have heard of macular degeneration and just 48 per cent understand that it is an eye disorder.
Winter was on board a cruise ship when she discovered she could no longer see a film playing on a large cinema screen.
‘‘There was this enormous screen and in the middle there was just nothing – I was terribly frightened,’’ she says.
‘‘Then I realised that I hadn’t been able to read menus and things like that for a while.’’
The Remuera resident went straight to see a specialist when she returned to Auckland.
Macular Degeneration New Zealand is holding two free public seminars to raise awareness of the disease in Auckland on November 15.
Winter has been having treatment for the past three years to help prevent her sight deteriorating any further.
But the disease has robbed her of her independence because she is no longer able to drive.
‘‘I find reading becoming more and more difficult, I cannot read the paper or directions on medicine bottles,’’ she says.
‘‘I was a great crossword addict and I cannot do crosswords now – that annoys me intensely.’’
Winter advises people to look for the signs and act quickly.
‘‘It’s such a subtle disease and if you suspect that you’re not seeing as well, then go get an eye test straight away.’’
Early detection is vital, Macular Degeneration New Zealand general manager Phillippa Pitcher says.
Progression of the condition can be slowed by making lifestyle changes, reducing smoking, improving nutrition and taking eye health supplements, she says.
Free public seminars will be held on November 15 from 10am till 11.30am at Greenlane’s Alexandra Park, Level 2, Rutherford Room, Greenlane Rd West and Albany’s QBE Stadium, Level 1, North Lounge, Stadium Drive.
Act quickly: Judi Winter loved to read and complete crosswords before macular degeneration began robbing her of her sight. She advises others to look for the signs of the disease and get checked.
Distorted vision: Images as seen by someone with macular degeneration.