Who’s Who in the care of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Man looks into an eye exam machine.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50 in the United States. It can blur the sharp central vision needed for reading, driving, and recognizing faces. The disease is most common among people who are white, often of European descent. Risk factors besides age include smoking, excessive exposure to the sun, family history, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Who are the Specialists You Need to Know?

Who provides care for someone who has been diagnosed with macular degeneration? What are the differences in the specialists? Use this as a reference list:

  • Optometrist: An optometrist performs general eye exams, may diagnose eye conditions, and prescribe eyeglasses. They may prescribe medication, depending on the state.
  • Low Vision Optometrist: This medical professional assesses visual needs and provides an examination to determine recommendations for what glasses, low vision aids, lighting, or magnifiers a person needs. The focus of the exam is to determine how someone can use their remaining vision for daily activities.
  • Ophthalmologist: The ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye health and diseases, provides eye exams, performs eye surgeries, and prescribes medications for various eye conditions. The focus of the exam is on eye health, management of eye disease, and treatment of injury.
  • Retinal Specialist: This doctor has additional training in diseases of the retina and conditions that affect the vitreous humor (the clear fluid that fills the space between the lens in the eye and the retina). They perform examinations, eye surgeries, administer injections, and operate specialized tests.

Which doctor is the “right” one to treat AMD? That answer may depend on the stage of the disease. As macular degeneration progresses and more tests or specialized treatments are needed, the eye doctor may need to be more specialized. An eye doctor can make a referral to another eye doctor who has more specialized training if necessary.

It is important to have consistent care from an eye doctor to maintain good eye health and disease management. Several eye doctors may be involved at the same time in the care and management of AMD.

Who Else can Help?

In addition to medical eye care specialists, there are other professionals who provide assistance for people diagnosed with AMD (and other eye diseases). Services by vision professionals are available through the Council.

  • Low Vision Therapist: This therapist provides a functional vision evaluation, measures vision, trains in the efficient use of remaining vision with optical and non-optical devices, and determines the need for environmental modification at home or work. Suggestions may include adjusting lighting, color and contrast, or positioning to get maximum use of remaining vision.
  • Vision Rehabilitation Therapist: This therapist provides evaluation and instruction in adaptive independent living skills to manage daily living activities. They provide instruction in optical and non-optical devices, assistive technology, and environmental modifications, such as lighting, organizational skills, and labeling.
  • Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist: The O&M specialist provides evaluation and instruction in relearning non-visually the skills and concepts to travel safely and independently in the home and community. They are certified to provide training in the use of the white cane and instruct in the use of low vision aids.

If you are interested in learning about the vision services provided by the Council, contact Amy at AWurf@WCBlind.org or call (608) 237—8107.

What is the Best Care/Treatment Path?

A team approach is important for someone who has been diagnosed with AMD or another vision impairment. Each therapist or doctor can provide specialized knowledge and resources to meet the needs and goals of the person who has AMD. The whole person, not just the eyes, needs to be the focus of the care provided.

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, in partnership with UW Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and UW Health, hosts a Macular Degeneration Symposium every two years at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Due to COVID-19, the symposium has been postponed until Thursday, October 14, 2021. Learn more about the event at ophth.wisc.edu/event/amd2021.

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