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Don’t be one in a million – Make sure you test for macular disease

More than one million Australians are affected by macular degeneration and without appropriate prevention and treatment measures this number is set to increase to 1.7 million by 2030. Macular Disease Foundation Australia Patron and 2013 Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose is encouraging everyone over 50 to check their macular health.

Ita-Buttrose_FEATUREDChannel-Ten“The day I was honoured with Australian of the Year I made a public commitment to raise awareness of issues related to older Australians, including macular degeneration,” Ms Buttrose said.

“My father was in his mid-eighties when he lost his central vision to macular degeneration” It changed his life. As a journalist and author he had always started his day reading a couple of newspapers. Suddenly this was no longer possible. As a journalist and author myself I couldn’t imagine not being able to ever read again. I was as devastated about Dad’s fate as he was,” Ms Buttrose recalls.

Macular degeneration is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive but painless loss of central vision. Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, treatment options are available to slow down its progression, depending on the stage and type of the disease (wet, dry, and other forms). The earlier the disease is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain. It also progresses very quickly and so the best way to maintain your sight is with regular eye tests, ongoing monitoring and, most importantly, responding to any change in your vision.

There are risk factors we all need to be aware of. Macular degeneration is primarily age related, affecting one in seven people over the age of 50 in Australia and if you have a family history of macular degeneration you have a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease. Smokers and people who have smoked are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.

“One thing I have noticed is how few people know that a family history of the disease brings with it a high risk of MD,” Ms Buttrose says. “When I tell them that I have a 50 per cent chance of getting it too, most people are usually shocked. My children are equally at risk and consequently we all do some kind of regular exercise, watch our weight and follow the eating program recommended by the Foundation.”


Monitoring is a very important way to ward off MD. Basically, the message for anyone over 50 is to have an eye test. There is no time frame for the test, as it depends on individual requirements, however a health care professional will advise how long it will be between visits.

Another simple way to check your eye health is to self-monitor with the Amsler grid. The Amsler grid is free for Australians over 50 and simply involves holding the grid approximately 33cm at eye level. You can wear your glasses or contact lenses as you normally would and cover one eye while using the other to look at the dot. Repeat with the other eye. If you see blurring, warping, dark patches or empty spaces, when using the Amsler grid, make an urgent optometrist appointment as this could indicate early signs of macular degeneration.

Macular Degeneration Awareness Week is 25-31 May, 2014.

Nancy Little Case Study

Nancy was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration three years ago, but says she thinks she probably developed dry macular degeneration 15 years ago.

She noticed changes in her vision when she went from being in the sun outside to indoors. It took what seemed like forever for her eyes to go back to normal. She thought she was just someone whose eyes took longer to adjust to the glare than others. One day she asked her husband what he could see when she came back inside and there were things he could see that she couldn’t. She got the point where it was too much bother to go outside because it took too long for her eyes to get back to normal.

But she didn’t do anything about it. She just thought her husband had better eyesight than her, not a medical condition. “I was doing everything I still needed to do.”

After diagnosis Nancy took her eyesight seriously – changing her diet to include more fish (tinned tuna sandwich and other grilled fish etc) and taking supplements.

“I don’t live on spinach but I do take the tablets to supplement the diet and I do eat sensibly,” Nancy says.

She also checks her eyes every day using the Amsler grid and encourages everyone at risk to have regular tests.

Nancy has lost central vision in her right eye and find reading is difficult. It is possible to read books with large print, but but leaning back in an arm chair with the newspaper is something she misses dearly. “I’ve lost the joy of reading the paper “I can’t sew anymore – I do miss that – I am at the age in my life when I have the time to read and sew but I can’t!”


Macular Disease Foundation of Australia has released a beautifully presented cook book with more than 90 delicious easy-to-follow recipes specially created by chef Vanessa Jones and Foundation Patron Ita Buttrose.

Called Eating for Eye Health, each recipe in the book has been developed with eye health friendly foods. It’s available in print ($27 plus postage and handling) or audio format ($25 plus postage and handling).

To order, call 1800 111 709 or go to

Macular Degeneration Awareness Week is 25-31 May, 2014, and while this is an opportunity to raise the public’s knowledge on how they can protect their sight, the Macular Disease Foundation of Australia works tirelessly throughout the year to provide information and services. One of its campaigns, Sight for Seniors, has three clear objectives:

  1. No age discrimination in the National Disability Insurance Scheme for over 65s
  2. A fair deal on aids and technology for people with low vision
  3. Increased funding to support the work of the Foundation in macular degeneration

To find out more on this campaign, including ways you can get involved, go to
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Alana Lowes

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