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Elderly People With Common Eye Disease Respond Well to Program

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By Elizabeth Tracey , MS
WebMD Health News

Feb. 29, 2000 (Baltimore) -- Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the leading cause of blindness in this country, affecting about 6% of the population. The cause is not understood, and there is no cure, so people with the condition commonly feel isolated and unable to cope. However, a new program described in the current issue of the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine may help change that.

Stuart Brown, MD, professor of ophthalmology and chairman of the department of ophthalmology at the University of California at San Diego, and colleagues enrolled about a hundred elderly patients with AMD in the study. Nearly half of them participated in a self-management program designed to give them information on their condition and to provide them with coping skills. The remainder were placed on a waiting list.

"Patients in the self-management group participated in six, weekly, two-hour group sessions in which they received education about AMD and [participated in] group discussion on behavioral and cognitive [mental activity] skills to address barriers to independence," says Brown. "Assessment occurred at [the beginning of the study] and after the six-week intervention."

People who participated in the self-management program reported better moods, more confidence, and more use of low-vision techniques and aids than those who did not take the program. "The take-home message from this study is that with a structured, inexpensive, personnel-limited, and short intervention program, you can help many people who are essentially [isolated] by their disease," Brown says.

"People with AMD receive few or no benefits from the government, there are no community-based mechanisms in place to assist them, and they feel like pariahs, yet about 6% of the population suffers from this condition," he says. "We have demonstrated that there's a way to help this enormous group of people who haven't been helped and are isolated."

Scott Siedl, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, tells WebMD, "Although there's a lot of information out there about various conditions, not everyone has access to it. Elderly patients with AMD may not be surfing the web to find out about their condition, and may be quite frightened by the prospect of how their disease may progress."

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