Helping people with vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration

June 18, 2014 by Erin Howe

(Medical Xpress)—Losing the ability to read is one of the biggest complaints among people suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a disease that causes a distorted or blind spot in the centre of a person's field of vision.

So researchers at the University of Toronto are finding new ways to help people use healthy parts of their eyes to let them keep reading.

"We're taking patients who have AMD and helping them use their remaining vision," said Martin Steinbach, a professor in U of T's Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences and a senior scientist in the Division of Visual Science at Toronto Western Research Institute.

AMD is one of the most common causes of after age 60. People with a family history, , , blue eyes and who smoke are at greatest risk of developing the disease.

Steinbach's lab is helping people with central vision loss to look just above or below what they're reading so the images can be picked up by a working part of the retina. The process begins with an exam to identify the part of a person's remaining retina with the greatest potential for retraining.

The video will load shortly

"We want to make sure that the part of the retina that a person will be using is as close as possible to the part that had been destroyed by the disease, and to make sure that they use an area that is as large as possible," said research associate Dr. Esther González. "If it is too short, you have to read letter by letter, and that slows you down. If it's too far away, you can't read because sharpness decreases as distance from the fovea increases."

To train the eye, a computer program gives users a variety of single words at print sizes tailored to each individual's vision. The team asks participants to read the words as quickly and accurately as they can, shifting their gaze where necessary to see the entire word. This allows a new "pseudo-fovea" to be established.

These techniques initially used sophisticated and expensive equipment, which few ophthalmologists would have in their offices. The methods were effective, but the team hopes to help more people by making the training more affordable and convenient.

"We have been developing other techniques that make use of enhanced practice, such as using computer generated words for reading, and this would allow a patient to do their own retraining at home using an internet based instrument or something like an iPad," said Steinbach. "That would bring it to a wider audience. Hopefully, we can do this so that there is no cost to the patient."

"It's a progressive disease and it's going to affect many baby boomers. And we have a simple way to fix it," said research associate Dr. Luminita Tarita-Nistor, who was presented with the Envision-Atwell Award for Low Vision Research by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. The team presented their findings at the organization's annual meeting last month.

Tarita-Nistor also pointed out that central vision loss can have implications extending beyond one's ability to read.

"The fact that these people lose this skill affects their quality of life in many other ways. These patients have a high incidence of anxiety and depression."

Explore further: Early test warns of world's leading eye disease

Related Stories

Early test warns of world's leading eye disease

September 23, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new, quick and simple eye test can predict who is more at risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Patients with AMD may not need monthly injections

May 6, 2014
Researchers have found that, contrary to prvious clinical trial findings, monthly injections to counteract age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may not be necessary. The research is being presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting ...

Digital tablets improve speed and ease of reading for people with moderate vision loss

November 11, 2012
People who have eye diseases that damage their central vision can regain the ability to read quickly and comfortably by using digital tablets, according to a recent study. The research found that people with moderate vision ...

VCU Medical Center first in Virginia to implant telescope for macular degeneration

April 15, 2013
Physicians at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center have become the first in Virginia to successfully implant a telescope in a patient's eye to treat macular degeneration.

Some high blood pressure drugs may be associated with increased risk of vision-threatening disease

May 28, 2014
There may be a connection between taking vasodilators and developing early-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans who are age 65 and older, according to ...

'Preferred retinal location' may aid rehabilitation in patients with central vision loss

May 28, 2013
Perceptual learning techniques may provide a useful new approach to rehabilitation in patients with central vision loss—taking advantage of visual plasticity that persists even in old age, according to a special article ...

Recommended for you

Genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 prevents angiogenesis of the retina

July 24, 2017
A research team from the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear has successfully prevented mice from developing angiogenesis of the retina—the sensory tissue at the back of the eye—using gene-editing ...

Too little vitamin D may hinder recovery of injured corneas

July 24, 2017
Injury or disease in combination with too little vitamin D can be bad for the window to your eyes.

Combination of type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea indicates eyesight loss within four years

July 4, 2017
Research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered that patients who suffer from both Type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnoea are at greater risk of developing a condition that leads to blindness within an average ...

Nearly 60% of pinkeye patients receive antibiotic eye drops, but they're seldom necessary

June 28, 2017
A new study suggests that most people with acute conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, are getting the wrong treatment.

Magnetic implants used to treat 'dancing eyes'

June 26, 2017
A research team has successfully used magnets implanted behind a person's eyes to treat nystagmus, a condition characterised by involuntary eye movements.

Drug shows promise against vision-robbing disease in seniors

June 21, 2017
An experimental drug is showing promise against an untreatable eye disease that blinds older adults—and intriguingly, it seems to work in patients who carry a particular gene flaw that fuels the damage to their vision.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.