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Vision 2020

Your Eyes: The Line of Sight on Your Life

Dr Peter Kertes and Louise Gillis on the TIFF red carpet
Dr Peter Kertes and Louise Gillis on the TIFF red carpet
Dr. Peter Kertes, retina specialist and Chief of Ophthalmology, at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Louise Gillis of the Canadian Council of the Blind on the TIFF red carpet.

When we conjure up the fondest memories of our lives, and also when we make new ones, we use all our senses. Whether it’s a loved one’s face or a favourite film, images are what stay with us forever and make us who we are. But as we age, it’s less certain that our vision itself will stick around.

The single greatest cause of vision loss in Canadians over 50 is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition where the macula — the central part of the retina responsible for our central vision — degrades over time. The retina is the film that records the movie of our life, and when the film is damaged, the movie suffers.

AMD affects more than a million Canadians, so when leading vision organizations teamed up to raise awareness, it made sense that the first avenue selected to reach a wide audience was the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The main message the Canadian Council of the Blind, Fighting Blindness Canada, the Canadian Retina Society, and Novartis Canada hoped would be remembered is that memories stay with you, so should your vision. Spot the symptoms of AMD.

Early intervention can offer huge benefits

AMD comes in both dry and wet forms, with wet AMD being rarer and generally much more severe. The defining characteristic of wet AMD is abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina, which can break, leak, and bleed, causing serious damage. Dry AMD occurs when the macula becomes thinner and, as a result, less capable of supporting the retina’s photoreceptors, the cells that convert light into visual signals. Vision loss occurs as these cells die off. “People with dry AMD usually maintain pretty good vision,” says retina specialist and Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Peter Kertes of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “The rule of thumb is that, while the significant majority of AMD is the dry form, the majority of severe vision loss occurs with wet AMD.”

The good news for wet AMD patients is that the outcome can be quite good if the disease is caught early. “There continues to be enormous progress in treating wet AMD. With many patients, the right intervention not only stops their vision from worsening, but actually helps them to regain some of the vision they had lost,” says Dr. Kertes. 

It’s essential that all Canadians over the age of 50 be vigilant and know the early warning signs to look out for.

Vigilance is key to protecting eyesight

“Awareness and vigilance are so important,” says Dr. Kertes. “Every patient is different, and some do better than others, but it’s definitely the case that the earlier you catch wet AMD, the better.” 

For this reason, it’s essential that all Canadians over the age of 50 be vigilant and know the early warning signs to look out for. “People should be aware of the symptoms that need immediate attention,” says Dr. Kertes. “Fortunately, the onset of wet AMD usually isn’t very subtle. The most common symptoms are blurred or blind spots in the central visual field as well as distortion, meaning that straight lines don’t look straight anymore. If there’s any significant change in your vision, it warrants attention from an eye doctor sooner rather than later.” 

If you’re over 50, the important takeaway is to not take your vision for granted in the face of AMD. Good vision is essential as we age for maintaining independence, and for social and cultural engagement through mediums like literature and film. And it’s exactly these things — independence and engagement — that allow us to age healthily and gracefully. So, next time you’re taking in a film or appreciating a beautiful sight, remind yourself just how valuable your vision is, and make sure you’re taking the right steps to safeguard it. 

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