Memories and Genetics of Macular Degeneration
You never know what life will throw at you, no matter what age. At 80-ish, my dad was remarkably healthy. Despite the fact that all of his brothers died from cardiovascular disease, he had perfect heart health. His visual acuity was so good that he only wore glasses to read later in his life. My mom was caring, warm, funny and someone everyone wanted to be with. I wanted to BE her - I still do!
I don't know when this changed. I was 700 miles away. It was probably 2005. My parents would regularly get in the car and drive 12 hours to visit us. After their trip in 2004, they stopped. To be honest, I'm not sure when he was diagnosed with AMD. I know that at one point, he told me that when he looked at telephone poles, they were chopped off toward the top and that section moved to the side. Of course, it freaked him out. His AMD eventually progressed to advanced dry AMD. That's called geographic atrophy which means he had a blind spot in the middle of each eye.
I say I don't know when his vision changed because about the same time, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth, talking to them on the phone, trying to stay in contact with their doctors by fax, phone, and email. My husband and I put our house on the market so we could move closer, but after a year of it not selling, we gave up that idea and continued to travel to them and deal with issues as best we could from where we were.
Driving with AMD
My father was a proud man. He refused help from family, friends, and neighbors. He drove even though it wasn't safe. He justified it by saying that he was only driving a short distance on roads he knew. He was darned lucky he didn't kill someone alongside the road or kill him and Mom by turning in front of a car he didn't see. He couldn't see if a traffic light turned colors so he depended on Mom to tell him.
Mom's Alzheimer's? It robbed her of her vitality, her wacky sense of humor. It robbed her of her personality. That's a story for another time.
The thanks...and no thanks
That was a difficult time for us all. Dad died in 2012, and Mom died about 7 months after him in 2013. I thank them every day for caring so much about my brother and me that they regularly put us first and made many sacrifices along the way.
Memories and genetics
They left us with wonderful memories but also with their genetics. They certainly didn't do it on purpose, but having a parent with either Alzheimer's or AMD increases the risk for developing one or both of those diseases. My husband has the same family history except that his mother had both Alzheimer's Disease and AMD. Will it definitely happen to us? Not necessarily. There are people with the same family history who never develop their parents' diseases.
It's in MY genes so now what?
For people who have a family history of either disease, the advice is similar:
- Be as healthy as possible (keep weight, blood pressure, cholesterol normal).
- Get regular, moderate exercise.
- Eat a low carbohydrate, Mediterranean style diet with lots of plant-based foods.
- Cut way down on sugar.
There's additional advice specific to each diseases, of course.
How are we doing with that?
It varies from day-to-day. My brother is very healthy and fit, and he eats well. My husband and I both need to lose more weight, and we both need more exercise. Our diets are MUCH better than they ever have been, but we both have a problem with sugar...we LOVE it!
When I started writing this, I said, "You never know what life will throw at you." Does it help motivate us since we have clues as to the possibilities? The jury is still out on that one.
Do you have a family history of AMD? Are you following the advice given?
Do you still drive?