Macular disease risk hits over-50s

Suellen Tapsall is only a fraction away from being legally blind in both eyes, part of a wave of Australians succumbing to the vision-robbing disease macular degeneration.

She had worn glasses for standard short-sightedness from age 10 but her vision became suddenly blurred one day in her late 30s, which she initially dismissed as conjunctivitis.

Instead, she was told she had macular degeneration - a disease of the retina that causes progressive loss of central vision - and that it would get worse.

Now 52, she is legally blind in her right eye and only a pinhead away from legal blindness in her left eye. Ms Tapsall still has enough of her central vision to work in executive education at the Australian Institute of Management, and can drive a car.

"Most of the time it's very challenging, especially because I love to read, and everything looks a bit weird to me," she said.

"It's a progressive disability, so you never know from one day to the next how your sight will be."

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia, with more than 1.2 million people having some symptoms.

Risk factors include being over 50, having a direct family history and smoking.

Ms Tapsall is a foundation board member of Macular Disease Foundation Australia, which is urging baby boomers to have regular eye and macula tests and to eat fish a couple of times a week and plenty of dark, leafy vegetables.

The West Australian

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