Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. There are two main types of AMD: dry AMD and wet AMD.
Dry AMD is the most common form, but it can sometimes progress to wet AMD. Wet AMD develops when atypical blood vessels leak fluid and blood into the layers of the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision.
Dry and wet AMD can both cause blurry central vision, which makes it harder to see straight ahead. The condition can also cause other vision changes, such as making colors appear less bright or making straight lines look crooked or wavy. The changes to your vision may get worse over time.
If you have AMD, you might find it challenging to see people’s faces, read, drive, or take part in other routine activities. These challenges may interfere with your social life and raise your chance of social isolation. They may also make it harder to manage your daily needs and responsibilities.
Reaching out to others for support and social connection may help you adjust to life with AMD.
We talked with Mary Toss, a 90-year-old resident of Connecticut who’s been living with AMD for about 10 years, to learn how she stays socially active and finds support with this condition.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.
When I gave up driving, my social life went downhill. I was doing volunteer work, which I had to give up. I couldn’t go places to socialize unless somebody else was going and could drive me.
But something that’s really held up is my friendships. I have three friends still living, out of a big group of 14, that have known each other for 70 years. They’re a year older than I am, but they’re still driving. They won’t drive at night, and they won’t go far, but they’ll pick me up to go out to lunch or maybe the theater.
Times with those girlfriends are great, even if we’re not as active as we used to be. We meet on Tuesdays for lunch. We’ll tell anybody where we are and invite them to join us.
My reading’s blurry, so when we go to restaurants, my girlfriends are very nice and offer to read the menu to me. But if I know where I’m going, I’ll look up the menu online and pick one or two things that I think I’ll like ahead of time.
We used to take bus trips and probably still would, but because of COVID-19, a lot of the bus trips have stopped. We still do a lot with our church.
Our church has what they call New Horizons, which is for people 65 years and older. On Tuesdays, they show films. On Wednesdays, they have game time, where we play cards or a game. They also try to host trips, such as to the theater.
On Sunday, we’ll go to church, then to a restaurant for breakfast after. We’ll meet back at church in the afternoon and go to the theater.
I also have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who come to visit me. Most of the time, they come to me. But I’ve gone to visit my daughter and grandchildren in North Carolina. I may go again, but it’s gotten harder.
It’s not just my eyesight but also my hips and legs. I don’t want to take away from AMD, but a lot of the slowing down in my social life has to do with other age-related changes, too.
I try to keep myself busy at home. When I had my full sight, I was a pretty good painter. I decided to try to paint again a few years ago. I couldn’t see very well, but I decided to do it for pleasure. I like to do it on the porch in the summer.
I have a magnifying computer. I can put my mail under it to make it larger, and there’s a button I can push to have it read the mail for me.
I have an iPad that I use to pay my bills and read. I also use it to look up things, which helps to keep my mind occupied. I have to enlarge everything, and a lot of it goes off the screen, so my grandchildren are in the process of looking for something bigger.
When I don’t have anything else to do, I love to watch television. I can tell my TV what channel or movie I want. I have a cell phone that I can ask questions and make calls on.
And this past Christmas, my children got me a smartwatch, which I can tell to make phone calls or read out my texts.
As soon as my children and grandchildren hear of something that could make life easier for me, they want to put it into my lap. One of my grandsons is into high tech gadgets, and when he visits me, he always finds one thing or another that could make life easier. I always say, “I’ll try.”
It took a whole month to get used to my new phone. I was getting very aggravated with it, so one of my daughters took me to the Apple Store. We talked to a 31-year-old young man who has had vision difficulties since he was 8 years old.
He knew exactly what I needed. He said to us, “Why don’t we just take a lot of this stuff off the phone and put on exactly what you’ll need.”
I’ve been fortunate that when I need to go somewhere, there are people who can help. And I find that there’s a lot of help around if I look for it.
Use the help that’s there. Accept help from whoever is willing to give it. And look for help if it’s not there.
If you don’t have supportive friends or family, you can reach out to your local senior center or church. They might have a bus that will pick you up and take you there, where you can meet new people and get involved in activities.
You can also look into social services for your city or ask your doctor if there are places you can call to find help or things to do.
Sometimes, it’s hard to say, “I need help.” You might say, “Oh no, I’m OK.”
But if you want to keep going, you have to accept help.
Mary Toss will turn 91 years old this month. She learned she had AMD about 10 years ago during a routine checkup with her eye doctor. She’s since developed changes to her central vision that make it hard to see straight ahead. She lives in her own home in Connecticut with one of her daughters and enjoys regular visits with friends and family members. Her personal story of living with AMD was recently featured in an online film produced by the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.