Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blizzard On the Journey Home

By Richard P. Holm MD

This last month while driving home from a distant city after holiday feasting with family, we ran into a blizzard. Intermittently the powerful wind and new snow would explode between passing shelterbelts, other vehicles, and especially big trucks. Suddenly all vision of what was before us would be gone. 

The idea of coming to a stop during such blinding snow was not an option, as moving vehicles were coming upon us from behind. So we pressed on as carefully as we could, white knuckled, leaning forward, staring hard out onto a here-and-gone-and-here-again prairie highway, until we finally arrived home safe.

Being able to see what is in front of us is one thing most take for granted. But this will change for many as aging occurs. It's one of those unhappy surprises about growing old that many will have to face.

If we don't lose our vision from a bottle-rocket, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or other condition, many will develop age-related macular degeneration. Although this type of vision loss only affects two percent of those over 50, it climbs to 30 percent in those over 75. It's like winter snow that turns into a blizzard as we get older.

The macula is the central element of the retina. It provides for that concentrated part of our eyesight necessary for threading a needle, painting the lips of the Mona Lisa, finding a lost button, or seeing excitement on the face of your grandchild as she discovers a new thing.

The prevention of this age related blindness comes with all the same things that would prevent premature aging, heart attacks, and stroke; namely regular exercise and the avoidance of smoking and sleep apnea. 

Other possible preventatives include eating oily fish and ground golden flax seed, taking regular vitamin D, and maybe special zinc and oil supplements. I hold mostly with the staying physically active and eating a balanced and perhaps fishy diet. 

Growing old has it's challenges, like coming home from a long wonderful trip, and finding oneself in the middle of a South Dakota blizzard.

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