Sub­tle eye dis­ease steal­ing vi­sion away

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

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.

Photo: JESS LEE

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.

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