Worrying figures about our eye health

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Ita Buttrose

Jean Kittson, like many her age, is facing one of the busiest times of her life. One of Australia’s most-loved performers, Jean juggles her family and work commitments and the welfare of ageing parents in their 90s.

Research released today, commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia, reveals that Jean isn’t alone. 75 per cent of Australians aged 50-64 years are providing weekly care and support to older parents in some way and almost half (46 per cent) are supporting grandchildren.

The research also showed that this group, who is facing a multitude of modern day demands, is not making their sight a priority. Only six per cent say that an eye disease check is their top health check priority.

“Many people my age find themselves in this ‘sandwich’ situation and are often doing more caring for family members than they expected and consequently are putting their own health and wellbeing needs further down the `to-do’ list,” Ms Kittson said.

“I manage my health primarily because my family and I are a team.”

Macular Disease Foundation Australia Patron Ita Buttrose said it was concerning the research showed the prioritisation of eye health was extremely low.

“This at risk group of Australians clearly is not heeding preventative health messages. They are juggling family, possibly career and community activities, while trying not to let down those around them,” she said.

“However, they could be letting themselves down by not investing time in their own eye health.”

Macular Degeneration is an age-related disease with one in seven Australians over 50 having some evidence of it. People with a family history of Macular Degeneration have a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease.

With a strong genetic history of macular degeneration – Ita’s father and three of his siblings developed the disease – Buttrose knows she’s at risk.

“I make sure I look after my sight as I’ve seen firsthand with my late father how devastating living with vision loss can be, but I also know that early detection can save sight. My Uncle Gerald is proof of this. Thanks to treatment that has maintained his sight he was still driving at 92,” she said.

Like Ms Buttrose, Ms Kittson is aware of the family risk as her mother lives with macular degeneration.

“I make sure I get an eye test and macula check every year and I try to eat as many salads, vegies and fish as possible – they are all recommended for good eye health,” she said.

Macular Disease Foundation Australia CEO Julie Heraghty says it’s important people are vigilant.

“This Macular Degeneration Awareness Week all Australians over 50 are reminded to have an eye test and macula check,” she said.

“Vision is critical to maintain quality of life and independence, so it is vital that those over 50 have regular eye tests as prevention, early detection and timely treatment can save sight.”

For a free macular degeneration information kit contact Macular Disease Foundation Australia 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au.

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