Part of the healthy aging process for older adults is preventing or minimizing diseases that jeopardize their well being. Now, imagine noticing a blurry spot near the center of your eye, which slowly grows bigger and eventually leads to blank spots in your vision. Over time, you find it more difficult to recognize the faces of your loved ones, drive a car, read a recipe, or complete your daily routine. Eventually, you may even experience vision loss in one or both of your eyes.
This certainly isn’t what anyone considers when imagining healthy aging. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative disease of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, that can lead to blindness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AMD is the leading cause of blindness among Americans aged 65 and older and is expected to increase as the elderly population continues to grow.
At this time, there’s no cure for AMD, and current treatments are aimed at slowing disease progression. However, research has found that adopting healthful eating patterns may lower the risk of developing AMD. Diets high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, and nuts and low in red meat may be associated with a decreased prevalence of advanced-stage AMD.
Emerging research also has found a link between adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern and lower risk of AMD. On the other hand, Western diets high in omega-6 fatty acids, red and processed meats, and refined grains may increase the risk of AMD.
Nutrient components of foods also may play a role in AMD prevention. Higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids and fatty fish have been linked to decreased development of intermediate and late-stage AMD. Foods rich in carotenoids, particularly lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, also may reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD. Counseling clients to consume a variety of vegetables in their diet is one way to help them increase their intake of these important micronutrients.
Since diet appears to be an important factor for preventing the development of AMD, dietitians can help clients adopt healthful eating habits that may protect them against it. Additional steps that can help minimize the risk of developing AMD include smoking cessation, engaging in regular physical activity, scheduling routine eye exams, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Remember that it’s never too early to discuss nutrition and eye health with clients and even with family and friends. Prevention is key to maintaining healthy vision during the aging process. These are steps our clients can take today that may help protect their vision in the future.
— Allison Herries, MS, RDN, CDN, is a clinical dietitian and freelance nutrition writer with more than five years of experience in the nutrition and dietetics field. Her specialties include diet and aging, nutrition for older adults, intuitive eating, nondiet approaches to health, nutrition research, and evidence-based nutrition and health writing. She’s also the founder of Bite Out of Life Nutrition at www.biteoutoflifenutrition.com.