Julie Heraghty Macular Degeneration Interview
Research released for Macular Degeneration Awareness Week (27 May - 2 June 2012) has revealed Australians significantly underestimate the role of family history in developing Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in Australia.
The national survey commissioned by the Macular Degeneration Foundation (MDF) found nearly three in four Australians (71%) did not correctly identify the role family history plays in developing the disease. This is despite research showing there is a 50% chance of developing Macular Degeneration when a family history of the disease is present.
Alarmingly, the research also found an estimated 2.1 million Australians over the age of 50 years, those most at risk, are unaware that having a parent with Macular Degeneration increases their chances of developing the disease.
Also, according to the research, one in three Australians incorrectly believe vision loss caused by Macular Degeneration is just a normal part of ageing.
CEO of the Macular Degeneration Foundation, Julie Heraghty said, "The results of the research are of great concern as about one in seven Australians over the age of 50 (one million people) have some evidence of Macular Degeneration, a chronic disease with a prevalence four times that of Dementia and more than half that of Diabetes.
"Australians need to know Macular Degeneration is not a normal part of ageing. Those most at risk are those over 50 years or with a family history of Macular Degeneration. This is why it is critical to make your family's macular health a priority and have your eyes tested and macula checked," said Heraghty.
One of Australia's favourite entertainers and MDF Ambassador, Jean Kittson, knows only too well the importance of family history when it comes to Macular Degeneration as her mother was diagnosed with the disease 15 years ago.
"When I tell people I have a 50% chance of getting it too, most people are shocked. But one of the greatest things I learnt from my mother is the importance of family and talking with each other. Sharing family stories and finding out who you are and your family health history could make the difference in saving your sight.
"Since Mum and my two uncles were diagnosed I've learned about Macular Degeneration, so I am vigilant in taking care of my family's nutrition by preparing food that helps protect our eye health. I also make sure I have my eyes tested and macula checked often," said Kittson.
"My daughters are 14 and 20, and I want to do all that I can to help them minimise the possibility of them developing MD. I want them to be able to see their children and their grandchildren grow and to be able to be independent for a long as possible," said Kittson.
Julie Heraghty says, "When you're with your family next talk about your history of Macular Degeneration. We want all Australians and their families to see a future and not have precious memories robbed by this disease." Research key findings
One in three Australians incorrectly believe vision loss caused by Macular Degeneration is a normal part of ageing.
Only one in five Australians (16%) correctly identified the chance of developing Macular Degeneration as 50% if you have a direct family history.
Generation X (aged 35-49) is more aware than their parents and children about the genetic risk of developing Macular Degeneration.
More than half of the population incorrectly identified spending less time on the computer and resting your eyes as ways to reduce the risk of developing Macular Degeneration.
Those aged 16-24 years were the most misinformed, with 81% incorrectly identifying that spending less time on the computer would reduce their risk and 77% saying resting their eyes would help.
Most of those interviewed incorrectly identified iron (55%) and calcium (38%) as nutrients important for eye health, while it is lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and omega-3s that are crucial for macular health. Prevalence of Macular Degeneration in Australia
Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and major vision loss in Australia
50% of all blindness is due to Macular Degeneration
The prevalence of Macular Degeneration increases with age
The prevalence of Macular Degeneration is 4 times that of Dementia and more than half that of Diabetes.
Approximately 1 in 7 Australians over 50 (1 million people) have some evidence of Macular Degeneration
The number of people with some evidence of Macular Degeneration will increase by 70% to 1.7 million by 2030, in the absence of effective prevention and treatment measures.
In 2010 12% of people over 50 yrs (856,000) had early signs of Macular Degeneration
In 2010 2% of people over 50 (167,000) had late stage Macular Degeneration which included 57,000 with Dry Macular Degeneration and 110,000 people with Wet Macular Degeneration
Over 14% of people over 80 (123,000) have vision loss or blindness from Age-related Macular DegenerationEye Health Checklist
Have your eyes tested and macula checked
Do not smoke
Keep a healthy lifestyle, control your weight and exercise regularly
Eat fish 2 to 3 times a week
Eat dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily
Choose low glycemic index carbohydrates
Eat a handful of nuts a week
Consider a suitable supplement in consultation with your doctor
Protect your eyes from the sun
Use an Amsler grid for checking for symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Seek immediate attention from an eye care professional if there are any sudden changes in vision Risk factors
Age: The rate of Macular Degeneration increases dramatically with age Macular Degeneration is not an inevitable consequence of ageing
Family history: 50% risk of developing Macular Degeneration if a family history is present. Up to 70% of cases have a genetic link
Smoking: 3 to 4 times the risk of Macular Degeneration if you smoke. Smokers get Macular Degeneration 5 to 10 years earlier, on average. 20 years after quitting, an ex-smoker's risk is the same as someone who has never smoked.
The Macular Degeneration Foundation have created an online clip to encourage people to look after their health and show you can rock into your 90s!
Visit You Tube
to see the Merry Musicians group of very talented musicians and dancers who are all "spring chickens and young at heart".
The Macular Degeneration Foundation is a charity committed to reducing the incidence and impact of Macular Degeneration in Australia. For more information or a free information kit call the Macular Degeneration Foundation on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au
Interview with Julie Heraghty, CEO Macular Degeneration FoundationQuestion:
What is for Macular Degeneration?Julie Heraghty
: Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia; it's primarily affecting those over 50 years of age. Macular Degeneration affects the central vision which is responsible for your ability to drive, read, see colours and fine detail (sowing, text messaging on a phone); to read this you're using your macular. Our macular is a very important part of our quality of life and it affects 1 in 7 people over 50 years of age, in some way. Almost 1 million people have some evidence of this disease and it will climb to 1.7 million in 20 years' time in the absence of prevention and treatment measures. Question:
What tips do you have for us to follow to decrease the risk of developing Macular Degeneration?Julie Heraghty
: To lower the risk, the most important thing to do is have your eyes tested and macular checked and it is important to make sure everyone (grandparents, mum, dad) all have their eyes tested and macular's checked.
The second most important thing is don't smoke! Smoking increases the risk of developing Macular Degeneration by 3-4 times. Smokers get Macular Degeneration five or ten years earlier on average and 20 years after quitting (after a smoker stops smoking) an ex-smokers risk is the same as someone who has never smoked. Smoking can send you blind and it is important for young people to know how important it is to quit and get help if they're struggling to quit because not being able to see a future is a very worrying situation.
It is also important to protect your eyes from sun exposure, especially when young. Question:
How does a low GI diet help people with or at risk of developing Macular Degeneration?Julie Heraghty
: Keeping a healthy lifestyle by controlling your weight and exercising regularly is important. It is important to eat oily fish (like salmon, tuna, sardines) 2 - 3 times a week and eat dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily because you need lutein which is found in those green leafy vegetables. We talk about 'green and gold', the gold is the zeaxanthin which is the antioxidants that protect your eye and it's really important to have lots of vegetables in your diet including spinach, cos lettuce, beans and kale. Kale is the best lutein based vegetable you can have.
We have just began to promote choosing a low glycaemic-index diet as we now have evidence to say this with confidence due to a Blue Mountain study; this includes the benefits of eating a handful of nuts, each week. Question:
What types of supplements are available to decrease the risk of developing Macular Degeneration? Julie Heraghty
: If you can't eat enough fish or dark leafy green vegetables you should consider a lutein supplement or lutein fish oil.
We know that you can reduce your risk and slow down the progression of the disease by having an eye-friendly diet. Question:
What is your main goal for Macular Degeneration Awareness Week?Julie Heraghty
: The theme of Macular Degeneration Awareness Week is to keep your family in the picture which is why we have used the Merry Musicians
to talk about healthy aging and the fact that you can 'rock on to your 90's and see a future'. The Merry Musicians are providing an example of healthy ageing and making sure that young people are engaged in caring for this age group.Question:
What role does family history play in Macular Degeneration?Julie Heraghty
: If someone in your direct family (mum, dad or grandparents) have Macular Degeneration you have a 50% chance of developing the disease. We have looked at the particular problem of Macular Degeneration from two lens; one is from the lens of those over 50 (parents and grandparents) making sure their health is protected because they're most at risk. The second is the importance of talking to their family and starting a conversation such as "Have you heard about Macular Degeneration? I've had my eyes tested and I'm fine, but you should have your eyes tested and be looking after your diet and not smoking to reduce your risk".
Those people who do have Macular Degeneration need to say "I have Macular Degeneration, it has a genetic component, you best start practicing all the things that can reduce your risk and have your eyes and macular checked".
Young people need to take care of their parents and grandparents including reminding them to have their eyes and macular checked! Being alert is important, if your parents or grandparents say "I've noticed some changes in my eyes" then you need to encourage them to see an Optometrist because you should never ignore any changes in your vision. Question:
How often do you suggest we have our eyes checked?Julie Heraghty
: The first thing to do is to have the initial test and then take the guidance from your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist. For most people it might be suggested that they come back in two years' time but for some, if they have early signs of Macular Degeneration, then it's important to follow the eye care professional's advice. The reason we say to have your eyes and macular checked is because you can have very early signs, without knowing because the disease is at the back of the eye which is why it is important to have the appropriate test. Question:
How does an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist check the macular?Julie Heraghty
: The macular is tested by a very simple test where an eye care professional looks into the back of the eye and they normally use a machine as we have become very advanced in the last couple of years. The test is simple and there is no pain because the machine basically takes a photograph of the back of the eye.
Interview by Brooke Hunter