• 2017 Macular Degeneration Gift Guide

    2017 AMDF Gift Guide - Gifts for people with vision loss from macular degeneration

    Our Favorite 2017 Gifts for People with Vision Loss from Macular Degeneration

    **JUST RELEASED – The 2019 AMDF Gift Guide

    The holihttps://www.macular.org/2019/12/15/2019-macular-degeneration-gift-guidedays are upon us! Do you have someone with low vision from macular degeneration in your life? Or wondering what to put on your own wish list?

    Finding a gift for someone with vision loss from macular degeneration may at first seem like a challenge, but there are some really great products that are sure to bring a smile.

    When people start to lose their vision, other areas of their life are affected, like independence, mood, and cognitive stimulation. AMD patients can suffer from loss of independence, depression, and cognitive decline as a result.

    We wanted to create a gift guide that honors the unique needs of people with AMD while being fun, innovative, unique, and inspiring. While there are plenty of low vision products on the market, these are a few of our favorite things.

    Gifts that Keep them Sharp

    Did you know that the loss of one of our senses is linked to cognitive decline? Help your loved one stay sharp with these gifts.

    Audio Book Subscription  For the AMD person in your life who is struggling to read print, an audio book subscription will let them enjoy listening to their favorites. Make sure they have a device they can listen on. 

    Why we love it – well, mostly because we’re a bunch of readers ourselves!

    Where to get it – Audible is one of the more popular audio book subscription services and you can sign up here.

    Kindle – the kindle is a lightweight, no-fuss electronic book reader. 

    Why we love it – Kindle was already a good choice as a reader for low vision, but now they offer specific accessibility features for low vision like the voice-view screen reader, larger font sizes, contrast options, and more. Not to mention, no blue light!

    Where to get it – on Amazon

    Other ideas – large print word and number games like crosswords or Sodoku are often available in large print versions. Great stocking stuffers! 

    Gifts of Independence

    Shrinking independence can be one of the most frustrating aspects of vision loss. Give a gift that helps maintain or extend independence and you’ll be sure to make it onto the nice list!

    Amazon Echo – a “hands-free speaker you control with your voice” to play music, get news, sports, weather, and more. Connection to other smart devices opens more potential.

    Why we love it – Another Amazon product? We know. But Anna Schaverian said it best in her review of Amazon Echo for her blind father, “Being blind in a world of screens makes you feel like you’ve been left behind.” We’re happy that tech is evolving beyond screens so the visually impaired can get some use out of it too!

    Where to get it – click here to go to the Amazon page. 

    Brightech LightView Pro – Designed for aging eyes, this professional-quality 42-LED floor lamp boasts the largest available magnifier lens, made of authentic diopter glass, with a 15″+ focal range.

    Why we love it – Lighting and magnification are two of the best tools that allow for the continuation of daily activities and hobbies, and this provides both in one tool that adjusts to different heights for different situations. We haven’t yet tried it, but one of our staff members ordered it for her mother for Christmas based on positive reviews.

    Where to get it – direct from Brightech’s website here.

    Gifts to Stay Social

    Along with maintaining independence, people with vision loss from AMD need to stay social to ward off isolation, but not being able to participate easily in things can be an obstacle. These two gifts, one fun, and one practical, are great isolation busters, AND when you purchase either of these gifts, a portion of the proceeds go to AMDF to support our mission.

    Big Letter Bananagrams – Fast-paced word game with 50% larger letters for people with low vision. 

    Why we love it – Because this version was inspired by a Bananagrams fan with macular degeneration! Also, because our own Paul F. Gariepy can play without his magnifiers, and we tested it in the field and it was a hit with 4 generations at a family Thanksgiving gathering (you can read the whole story here).  

    Where to get it – Big Letter Bananagrams is available on Amazon.

    Tip-n-Split – This handy device is a magnifier, light, and calculator rolled into one.

    Why we love it –  Restaurants are the WORST for the visually impaired with their dim lighting and small print menus. This device is more discreet than a smartphone, pocket-sized, and super easy to use. And you can read about the founder’s story here.

    Where to get it – You can order the Tip-n-Split here. 


     Special Staff Pick

    Low vision keyboard – large print, high contrast computer keyboard designed for the visually impaired.

    Why we love it – from Jennifer at AMDF, “I was visiting my mother recently and she was trying to show me something on the computer. She was having to lift the keyboard to her face and alternate between lifting her glasses to see the keyboard and then put them back down to view the screen. That’s when it hit me to search for a low vision keyboard for a Christmas gift. I think she’s going to love it!”

    Where to get it – you can find this one on Amazon here.

    Happy Holidays from all of us at AMDF!


    Learn more about how to donate to macular degeneration research and education

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  • What Does Bananagrams Have to do With Macular Degeneration?

    Sometimes you write a letter and nothing happens. Sometimes you write a letter and something BIG happens.  

    Something big happened when Dodi Peterson wrote in to BANANAGRAMS™ to ask a question on behalf of her mother, Jan, who was losing her sight to macular degeneration.

    “My mom loves Bananagrams and has been playing it daily, for years. Unfortunately, she is losing her vision from macular degeneration. Aside from the ‘Jumbo’ version (which is too big), do you make any other large versions of the game? Thanks!”

    Little did Dodi know that her letter would spark the development of a whole new version of the game, raising money for macular degeneration, and an awareness campaign.

    Big Letter Bananagrams is Born

    When the team at Bananagrams read Dodi’s letter they decided to create something special for Jan – a large print version. The original plan was just to make the one copy for Jan, but as they looked into macular degeneration they realized how many people suffer from vision loss due to macular degeneration or other causes. It became clear that a big letter version of the game should be part of their product line.

    Bananagrams worked with vision loss professionals to make sure the size and font of the tiles would be accessible. 

    Big Letter Bananagrams Game for Low Vision

    Big Letter Bananagrams is available on Amazon.

    Giving Back

    Now that the game was developed, the Bananagrams team decided they wanted to do more. They wanted to help raise awareness and support research. That’s when they reached out to AMDF and told us about the new game and their plans.

    In addition to donating proceeds from Big Letter Bananagrams to AMDF, they wanted to partner with us to raise awareness about macular degeneration with a fun campaign. We talked with them about how they had developed the game, and once we learned of the effort they had made to ensure the game was accessible to people with low vision, and we tried it out ourselves, of course we were on board! So we went to Rhode Island, home of Bananagrams headquarters, to help them kick off the launch of Big Letter Bananagrams.

    AMDF Hits the Road

    AMDF at Bananagrams

    To help kick off the launch of Big Letter Bananagrams, we traveled to Rhode Island, home of Bananagrams headquarters to meet with the team and broadcast a live interview on Facebook.

    AMDF Visits Bananagrams

    AMDF’s Matthew Levine (left) sat down with Marketing Director Derek Weston (pictured center), and Design Director Kendra Harrington (pictured on the right), for the live interview. We talked about their visit with Jan, the inspiration behind the game, and bringing her the first copy of Big Letter Bananagrams. 

    Kendra beamed as she told us, “She beat me at every game, and I was really trying!”

    So Much More Than a Game

    At AMDF, we were excited about another, invisible benefit of the new game design. Vision loss due to macular degeneration is associated with loss of independence, isolation, depression and cognitive decline. By creating an accessible game that’s both fun and brainy, and creating the Bring Big Smiles campaign, Bananagrams has also created a product that can help ward off some other quality of life declines that some people with AMD experience in a fun way.

    Click here to download a PDF about play and macular degeneration.

    #BringBigSmiles

    Bring Big Smiles (#BringBigSmiles) is the campaign to raise awareness about macular degeneration. The idea is to share the game with someone with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), or if YOU have AMD, to invite others to play with you. Sharing and playing the game with others can help break down isolation, exercise the brain, re-connect families and communities, and, well, put a smile on everyone’s face.

    Here are some ideas:

    • Bring the game to your next family gathering and watch multiple generations come together for some shared play. Tell them how the tiles and letters are bigger so that everyone, including people with low vision, can play easily.
    • Bring the game to your local retirement communities, senior centers, community gathering places, where there are likely to be several people coping with low vision issues including macular degeneration. Watch the faces light up as people realize how easy and fun the game is to play and how they can ditch the reading glasses and magnifiers!
    • Battle isolation by inviting neighbors and friends for an evening of game play. Sure, the tiles are bigger, but it’s the same game that everyone enjoys!

    Every time you share Big Letter Bananagrams with someone is an opportunity to educate others about macular degeneration and vision loss in a fun way. Every time you share Big Letter Bananagrams with someone you put a dent in isolation, lift spirits, increase independence, exercise your brain, and you put a smile on people’s faces. You Bring Big Smiles.

    Click here to find Big Letter Bananagrams on Amazon. 

    Putting it into Action

    When one of our team members, Jennifer, first held a copy of Big Letter Bananagrams in her hands, she knew right away she was going to bring the game to her next family gathering.

    “There are several people in my family with vision problems. I have an aunt with macular dystrophy (which is really similar to macular degeneration central vision loss), a cousin who has already had cataract surgery, my mother who has had cataract surgery and is now losing her vision to what looks like wet macular degeneration, and my grandmother Eleanor (we call her Mimi) who had cataract surgery on one eye, is soon to get surgery on the other, and who has also been diagnosed with macular degeneration. And they all love words! I really think they’re going to love this game.”

    She brought a couple copies of the game to her family’s Thanksgiving gathering and left them on a table while she went to help in the kitchen. Twenty or so minutes later she looked over and all the kids were gathered around and already in full swing playing the game.

    “I really wanted my grandmother, Mimi, to try out the game. She’s been starting to struggle more with her vision, needing reading glasses and extra light, and she loves activities with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so I invited her over. The instructions are so easy that she was able to jump right in. And sure enough she had no problem reading the tiles!”

    Big Letter Bananagrams Multi-Generational Play

    Eleanor got pulled away to help with dessert, but the kids continued to play on. After dessert, Jennifer brought one of the games over to the table where her mother, grandmother, son and Aunt were gathered. After quick instructions, the game was afoot.

    “It ended up being my son, myself, Mimi, and my aunt playing, while others hovered over making suggestions. It was a quick-paced game, and other than my son, almost everyone at that table had vision loss of one kind or another, but with the big letter tiles, it didn’t slow anyone down one bit.”

    Eleanor won that round, just in time for clean-up.

    Big Letter Bananagrams Winner
    “I won!” exclaimed Eleanor.

    “Mimi was so tickled to win! I gave her one of the games to take home, and she tells me she even enjoys playing solo, but she’s going to play with a friend who has macular degeneration, and bring it to her community gatherings.”

    So what’s Eleanor’s secret to winning a round of Big Letter Bananagrams?

    “Well, maybe it’s because I love words! When I was about 10 years old I would read a page of the dictionary when I had time on my hands. But I also quickly discovered that if you make your first word as long as possible, that’s the trick.”

    Join the Fun While Raising Awareness

    #BringBigSmiles AMD Awareness Campaign

    Want to help us raise awareness about macular degeneration through the Bring Big Smiles campaign? Send us your photos and stories of how you’re sharing Big Letter Bananagrams and we’ll share on our Facebook page and/or website. 

    Click here to write to us using our contact form

    OR

    Send your stories and photos via snail mail at

    American Macular Degeneration Foundation
    P.O. Box 515
    Northampton, Massachusetts 01061-0515

    OR

    If you’re on Facebook or other social media, you can post to our page or your own and use the hashtags #BringBigSmiles or #BigLettersBigSmiles.

    We look forward to hearing your stories!

     

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  • Macular Degeneration Cooking Safety Tips for the Holidays

    Macular Degeneration Cooking Safety Tips and Recipes

    The holidays are upon us and that means lots of time spent in the kitchen. Cooking can be challenging for people with vision loss due to macular degeneration, but there’s no need to stay out of the kitchen this holiday!

    Here are some quick and easy tips to help you stay safe in the kitchen and continue to participate in holiday food preparations.

    At the cutting board 

    • Choose a cutting board that contrasts with the food you are cutting – dark for light foods, light for dark foods.
    • Use a well-sharpened knife.
    • Use gooseneck lighting to add extra light to your workspace and set it BELOW eye level to reduce glare while giving you plenty of light.

    At the stovetop 

    • Avoid loose clothing/sleeves.
    • Turn off burners before moving a pan or pot.
    • When boiling, add items to the pot BEFORE heating the water.
    • To avoid oil burns and to keep oil from creating a mess, fry in a saucepan rather than a frying pan.

    At the oven 

    • Avoid loose clothing/sleeves.
    • Wear large oven mitts (preferably that go up to the elbow).
    • Pull the oven rack out to check on foods or to place into or take out of oven.

    Guests in Your Kitchen

    During the holidays, you may find more cooks in your kitchen than you are used to.  If you have low vision or are legally blind, you might already have a personal system for organizing your kitchen and cooking in it.  Make sure you let your guest cooks know how to follow the rules of your kitchen.

    If you keep your kitchen organized and always put items back in their place, ask your kitchen guests to do the same.

    Establish a standard location to place knives when not in use and put dirty knives behind the faucet until you are ready to wash them.

    Also, ask your guests to face all saucepan handles to the same side, facing away from the edge of the stove so you’ll know where to reach and won’t knock them off the stove.  If you’re unsure of where the handles are, use a long-handled wooden spoon to locate them.

    Low Vision Kitchen Resources

    And for the next holiday, and every day, ready your kitchen with low vision kitchen tools. Here are a few sites to get you started:
    • lowvisionchef.com – designed by a couple who have experience with macular degeneration!
    • maxiaids.com
    • amazon.com (try searching for low vision kitchen, or specific tools like “large print measuring cups”)

    Eye Healthy Recipes

    And of course, if you’re going to be in the kitchen, why not prepare some eye healthy recipes and use it as an opportunity to teach your friends and family about how to reduce their risk for AMD.

    You can find some free recipes from the AMDF Eat Right for Your Sight cookbook here.

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  • AMDF Supported Researcher Receives Award at ARVO 2017

    Back in May, some members of our team attended the ARVO 2017 conference in Baltimore, MD. ARVO is The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world, and the yearly conference is the largest gathering of those researchers and doctors.

    Our mission in attending this yearly conference is to identify promising research and researchers that we might want to support, learn about what’s new in macular degeneration research and assistive technology, and raise awareness with doctors about our organization and how we can help them help their patients with information.

    This year we had a bonus! We were there to see one of our supported researchers, Dr. Johanna Seddon, receive the Weisenfeld Award. Dr. Seddon of Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center was named the 2017 recipient of the Mildred Weisenfeld Award for Excellence in Ophthalmology for her pioneering work on the interplay of nutritional, environmental and genetic risk factors in age-related macular degeneration.

    Dr. Johanna Seddon ARVO 2017
    From left to right: Paul Gariepy (AMDF), Chip Goehring (President of AMDF), Dr. Johanna Seddon and her husband.

    Her studies of lifestyle factors have influenced clinical practice world-wide. Her discoveries of common and rare AMD genetic variants have provided targets for therapies. Her predictive modeling insights have laid the groundwork for personalized medicine. And some of you may recognize her from the Eat Right for Your Sight cookbook which was created in collaboration with Dr. Seddon.

    “AMDF has provided broad support for Dr. Seddon’s research for a number of years,” said Chip Goehring, President, AMDF. “We’ve made such a strong investment in her studies because she produces findings that we, as individuals with macular degeneration, can apply to our lifestyle choices. And we are delighted that she co-authored our AMDF Cookbook – Eat Right for Your Sight. This award confirms what we already believed: she is doing life changing work.”

    Dr. Seddon’s findings include:

    15 different genetic variants, including some rare and highly penetrant genetic variants, which are strongly associated with AMD in families;
    smoking increases risk of AMD, lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) and dark green leafy vegetables in the diet reduce risk of AMD, omega-3 fatty acids, fish and nuts reduce risk, trans fats and abdominal obesity increase risk, and exercise reduces risk of macular degeneration; the development of comprehensive AMD risk prediction models and an on-line risk calculator.

    Her current work is focused on identifying genetic associations and interactions with non-genetic risk factors and sub-phenotypes of the disease.

    Congratulations Dr. Seddon!

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  • Founder of Tip-n-Split, Connie Inukai

    How inventing a product to help restaurant goers with aging eyesight led her to discovering Age-Related Macular Degeneration and inspired her to give back.

    “I didn’t know about Macular Degeneration until I invented this product.”
    Connie Inukai Founder Tip-n-Split

    A few years ago, as she was approaching retirement, Connie Inukai found herself facing a challenge many do as they get older – reading small print in dimly lit restaurants. Instead of letting it go, she decided to find a solution. She set out to create a fun and useful product for restaurant goers who didn’t want to bring their smart phones to dinner.

    The result is Tip-n-Split, a pocket sized magnifier, light, and calculator rolled into one.

    Learning about AMD and Giving Back

    In her journey to create Tip-n-Split and get it into the hands of people with diminishing eyesight, Connie started hearing about Macular Degeneration. Over and over it came up as she was meeting people at expos.

    “So many people told me I could really use this, or my mom really needs this, she has Macular Degeneration. So many people seemed to have this, but I didn’t know anything about it, so I looked it up.”

    Once Connie realized how many people were suffering from AMD, she wanted to make a contribution beyond the product. She reached out to us and let us know she wanted to give 10% of the proceeds from online sales to the cause of Macular Degeneration.

    “At this stage in my life I want to start giving back.”

    And she didn’t stop there. She sent us 12 Tip-n-Splits to give away as gifts. If you’d like to receive a Tip-n-Split for free, tell us about your Macular Degeneration solutions (or frustrating lack thereof) for reading the menu in dimly lit restaurants. We’ll send a Tip-n-Split to the first 12 commenters! Be sure to include your email so we can get in touch!

    You can find out more about Connie and Tip-n-Split at www.tipandsplit.com.

    **UPDATE: (December 12) Connie was so moved by your comments she sent us 12 more Tip-n-Splits to give away for a total of 24!

    56 Comments
  • Behind the Scenes of AMDF’s 2017 Feast for the Eyes Calendar

    On a sunny day back in May, a team of people came together to cook for, photograph, and design a calendar with delicious foods good for eye health.

    Feast for the Eyes 2017 Eye Healthy Recipes for Macular Degeneration

    Some key people from the team that developed the AMDF cookbook, Eat Right for Your Sight, came together to create the Feast for the Eyes calendar. Jennifer Trainer Thompson developed the recipes, guided by the groundbreaking research of Johanna M. Seddon, MD, ScM, one of America’s leading experts in the field of age-related macular degeneration.

    Jennifer Trainer Thompson

    Before the photo shoot got under way, Jennifer Trainer Thompson was on deck for prep and to help organize and oversee cooking of the recipes she had developed.

    Catrine Kelty and Jody Fijal

    Catrine Kelty (food stylist) reviews the order of recipes with Jody Fijal (food preparation). This was one of the few moments Jody wasn’t furiously cooking!

    AMDF Calendar Photo Shoot

    Jody and Susan tag-teaming clean-up between dishes.

    AMDF Oysters on the Half Shell

    Remnants from the Oysters on the Half Shell recipe (don’t worry, somebody ate them) which contains lutein and zeaxanthin, both good for eye health.

    Feast for the Eyes Photo Shoot

    Christian Goulette, photography assistant, making adjustments to the camera before a shot.

    Photographing the AMDF Feast for the Eyes Calendar

    Catrine arranges a dish for Joe Keller, photographer, while Christian makes tech adjustments in the background.

    AMDF Feast for the Eyes Calendar Shoot

    The team reviews how the shot looks on screen. Take a shot, review, make adjustments, rinse and repeat until it’s calendar worthy!

    Blueberries | Foods good for eye health

    Blueberries for the Spinach Watercress Salad, plates awaiting the Carrot Soufflé Dessert, and in the background, empty oyster shells. All foods good for eye health!

    AMDF Eye Healthy Recipes Calendar

    The last step in the day’s process… in an adjacent room, Hans Teensma (middle) takes the approved photos and puts together the design of the calendar while Chip Ghoehring (background), AMDF founder and president, looks on to offer feedback along with AMDF’s Paul Gariepy (foreground).

    Foods for Macular Degeneration

    Ok, the actual last step. Clean your plate!

    The 2017 Feast for the Eyes Calendar is available in our shop or, through November [EDIT: now through December!], if you donate $100 or more to AMDF, we’ll send you the calendar as a gift [click here to donate]. Donations support AMDF in meeting the needs of those affected by age-related macular degeneration through education, supporting research and new technologies, and offering hope and resources to live, and even thrive, with the disease.

  • Inspiring Case History of Age-related Macular Degeneration

    A Missionary’s Approach to AMD

    Polly Brown takes an unusual approach to Age-related Macular Degeneration.  It isn’t an easy one, and she knows it isn’t for everyone. She believes it’s her job — perhaps even her right — to “be thankful in all circumstances.” That phrase is from the tail end of a letter from the Christian missionary Paul to people living in Thessalonica in the first century. Paul himself is thought to have suffered from vision problems — so much so that he mentions in another letter in the Bible that he knows his friends would give him their own eyes if they could. Whatever Paul’s story, Polly Brown takes his suggestion as — well — a bit of divine instruction.

    Brown was diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration in her left eye in 2006, after coming out of cataract surgery. She was 78. “It was kind of a shock because my first cataract surgery, in the right eye, was perfect,” she said recently in an interview. “I could see clearly. But the surgery for the left eye was funny. After the surgery there was this big mushroom-shaped floater that didn’t go away. That afternoon I was sent to a retinal specialist.”

    Brown has been undergoing treatments for AMD in her good eye, to preserve her vision. The treatments are most recently at the Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester in N.Y., near where she and her husband Ralph live. Every six weeks she receives an  injection of Avastin, the formula which inhibits the growth of abnormal blood vessels behind the eye, slowing or even stopping the progress of “wet” AMD.

    Brown used to dread injections. “They’re not that painful — because the eye is numb,” she said. “But there’s some discomfort, with the eye clamped open. And for a few hours afterward, I’m crawling around with my eye all irritated and watering. Plus, dilated. I prefer afternoon appointments. At least then I don’t lose the whole day. I can go home and go to bed with a cold washcloth on my eye.”

    The Browns were missionaries overseas since they were in their early 20s, having only moved to back to the United States in early retirement. Given their work, they know the Bible backward and forward. And Polly was well aware of that obscure bit about gratitude. At first —

    “Be thankful for everything? Well, who can do that, all the time?” she said. “But I decided that, instead of dreading the monthly appointments, I was going to be thankful that there’s a treatment, and a specialist, and this research. Plus, I have insurance to pay for it. I go in with that attitude. You know, last time I went, the aftermath was not as bad.”

    Another obviously good thing is that, due to the treatments, Brown has plenty of sight in that right eye. She can even read, especially under a bright light. She was thoroughly enjoying a P.G. Wodehouse novel when we interviewed her — one in a big stack of fiction, biographies, and Bible study books that has been a standard mix her whole life. At church she uses Kindle and large-print Bibles.

    At 85, Brown does not see well enough to drive. But Ralph can drive, so they are well set to run errands or to see their five grown children (and seventeen grandchildren and six great-grandchildren … ). They moved to Rochester, NY, two years ago to live with one of their sons and his wife.

    “While we’re still able to be independent, we’re well set if the time comes when we need more help,” Brown says. Even now their daughter-in-law often invites them for dinner, “especially on injection days.” (Although, when they stay home on those days, Ralph cooks. This is a new skill for him, Polly Brown notes wryly. “He has become very good at opening cans of beef stew.”)

  • Fox News Eat Right For Your Sight Feature

  • AMDF Featured in The Harvard Medical School of Ophthalmology

    The Harvard Medical School of Opthalmology featured AMDF in their April 2014 EyeWitness newsletter

    eyewitness-24-april-2014-4
  • AMDF Featured in The New York Times

    hayrows_amdf_0
    Artwork by Paula Gottlieb

    Sane Steps May Save Your Precious Central Vision

    The AMDF has been featured in the New York Times.
    Below is a reprint of the article.

    By JANE E. BRODY

    Dr. Sidney Schreiber, a cardiologist from Scarsdale, N.Y., was in his mid-70’s and still working in the lab and caring for patients when he noticed that he could not see clearly with his right eye.

    A visit to his ophthalmologist produced a discouraging diagnosis. Dr. Schreiber had macular degeneration, a rapidly progressive form at that, and within three years he lost 90 percent of his vision, leaving him functionally blind.

    An estimated 10 million Americans have this progressive retinal disease, though most are not as severely affected as Dr. Schreiber, and some are not yet aware that they have the painless condition. It afflicts one person in four older than 75 and is the leading cause of legal blindness in Americans over 55.

    The numbers affected will continue to climb as the population ages, prompting an escalating race to develop more effective treatments and, perhaps, even preventives, including measures based on recently identified genetic factors that raise the risk of developing the disease.

    A Familiar Regimen

    Meanwhile, there is much that people can do now to ward off this disabling condition or slow its progress. Interestingly, the very same steps that lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers can also help protect the eyes.

    Though peripheral vision remains intact, macular degeneration robs people of their central vision, making it hard or impossible to read, write, drive, watch television, see the time, recognize faces and see where they are going.

    Still, many who are seriously afflicted manage to pursue active lives. The late Don Knotts, a co-star of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Three’s Company,” was 57 when his disorder was diagnosed. But he continued to work almost until his death on Friday at age 81.

    “I got pretty depressed for a while,” the American Macular Degeneration Foundation quotes him as saying. “And then one day I said to myself, ‘I bet a blind person would give his right arm to have the vision I have.’ “

    Although most patients are over 55 when found to have what is commonly called age-related macular degeneration, some develop macular disease as children or young adults. Marla Runyan was in the fourth grade when she was struck with a juvenile form of the disease. Yet she finished college and competed twice in Olympic running events despite being legally blind.

    Dr. Schreiber, the cardiologist, was an accomplished artist when macular degeneration forced him to abandon his hobby and his career. Like Mr. Knotts, he lapsed into a serious depression for nearly two years, emerging only after a visitor from Lighthouse International showed him all he could do with low-vision aids.

    Encouraged by his wife, Freda, who became his eyes, he gradually resumed his favorite activities, with modifications. He visits museums (his wife reads the legends aloud), listens to recorded books (“I’ve never been so well-read”), gardens (though he sometimes pulls up flowers instead of weeds) and has resumed painting, his artistic talent apparently intact judging from a recent rendition of poppies in a vase.

    He has even been able to put his medical training to good use. Now 84, he is scientific director of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, which sponsors research and provides support and information. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter and has produced the helpful “Hope & Cope” DVD, both available for a $25 contribution. The foundation can be reached at P.O. Box 515, Northampton, Mass. 01061-0515 or at (888) 622-8527. Its Web site is www.macular.org.

    The macula is a dense collection of light-sensitive cells in the middle of the retina along the back of the eye. These cells are used for the “straight-ahead” vision needed to read, sew, drive and see fine details. Most cases of macular degeneration begin and remain in one or both eyes as what is called the dry form of the disease. Yellow deposits called drusen form under the retina, increasing in number and size until they destroy macular cells and blur central vision.

    The disorder can progress so slowly that deteriorating vision is not noticed until it is quite advanced. But as it worsens, more light may be needed to read and faces may become hard to recognize. Far less often, macular degeneration occurs as the wet form, leading to a rapid loss of central vision when abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood and other fluids, raising the macula off the wall of the eye. In about 10 percent of cases, dry macular degeneration eventually develops into the wet form.

    Looking for Early Signs

    Dr. Schreiber said: “I might have had the dry form for 10 years, for all I know. It’s probably my fault for not seeing an eye doctor every year.”

    Which raises a critical point. Early signs can be readily detected by a thorough eye exam in which the pupil is dilated, allowing the doctor to examine the retina and optic nerve for signs of trouble. People 50 and older should have such exams yearly, or twice a year with signs of disease.

    A simple test can be done in any doctor’s office (or at home) to detect vision distortions that might not otherwise be noticed. It uses a graphic device called the Amsler Grid, a box of cross-hatched lines with a black dot in the center. Covering first one eye, then the other, a person stares at the black dot. If any of the straight lines appear wavy or missing, that could be a sign of macular degeneration.

    Prevention and Treatment

    The established risk factors offer strong clues to avoiding or delaying onset of the condition. They include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, sedentary living, overexposure to sun and a diet deficient in green leafy vegetables and fish.

    Other risk factors are being a woman, farsighted or Caucasian and having light eye or skin color, cataracts and a family history of the disorder. Two factors, oxidation and inflammation, appear to cause macular injury. Studies sponsored by the National Eye Institute found that daily consumption of a high-dose formula of antioxidants and zinc could reduce the risk that early macular degeneration would advance.

    Various products sold over the counter contain this formula or one like it: 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 I.U. of vitamin E, 15 milligrams of beta carotene, 80 milligrams of zinc oxide and 2 milligrams of copper. Smokers should avoid products containing beta carotene, which may increase their risk of lung cancer.

    In addition, most experts recommend a supplement of lutein, zeaxanthin or both, carotenoids found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and collards. Twinlab makes a supplement, Ocuguard Plus, that contains lutein.

    Several drugs, Visudyne by QLT and Novartis and Macugen by Eyetech Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer, have also been shown to slow deterioration of eyesight in wet type macular degeneration. One Visudyne patient in six is said to have shown improved vision, a most exciting advance. Another drug awaiting approval, Lucentis by Genentech, may also help.