Learning to See With Macular Degeneration

November 5, 2009 11:03:08 AM PST
Thirteen-million Americans have AMD -- age related macular degeneration, the leading cause of irreversible blindness and vision impairment in people over 50. Now, researchers are studying a new kind of therapy for the condition. It can't reverse the damage, but it's helping patients get the most out of the vision they have left.For Russell DeLong, this would have been impossible four years ago. Macular degeneration made his world go black.

"To start with, I was totally blind," DeLong told Ivanhoe. "I couldn't see nothin'."

He had surgery but his world remained a blur.

"Everything looked like a real heavy fog, real heavy," DeLong said. "I couldn't see that tractor at all. I could just tell there's something there."

After years of treatment, he thought he was out of options. A recent study found the brain reorganizes itself to compensate for vision loss. That's the key to a new therapy that teaches patients a whole new way of seeing.

A computer maps areas of the retina damaged by macular degeneration and those that are intact. Then it trains the patient to shift his vision, using the good retinal cells to see.

"It's really a series of biofeedback training to get the patient to move in that positive way that we feel is going to be the most sensitive and give him or her the best possible vision," Susan Primo, O.D., Director of Vision and Optical Services at Emory Eye Center in Atlanta, Ga., told Ivanhoe.

Now with special glasses, DeLong can read a magazine. Back on the farm, he can see things that used to be a blur.

"If I look at it and it's black, I turn my head a little and I see around the scar tissue that there's a tractor," he said. "I can do everything out here. Everything."

At 74, DeLong still has busy days ahead ... and wants to see every second.

"I'm gonna keep going," he said.

Researchers are currently testing the computer therapy at Emory University. Smoking, obesity and race play a role in your risk of developing macular degeneration. Whites are much more likely to lose vision from the disease than other races.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Emory Eye Center
(404) 778-2020

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