MACULAR DEGENERATION LEADING CAUSE OF VISION LOSS

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, an area inside the back of the eye in the center of the retina. This is where the eye focuses for recognizing faces and reading. The retina records images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. AMD occurs when the central portion of the retina begins to deteriorate, affecting a person’s ability to read, drive, recognize faces or colors and see objects in fine detail. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults.

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VISION IS LEARNED - AND IT CAN BE RELEARNED

Vision involves over 70% of the neural pathways of the brain. Vision is more than eye sight. Vision is the only body system that continues to develop after birth. Vision involves the way the eyes and brain interact. It takes approximately three years for the eyes to learn how to work together. When they do not, it can result in the eyes turning in (esotropia) or out (exotropia), crossed eyes (strabismus) or lazy eye (amblyopia).

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WHAT IS BEHAVIORAL OPTOMETRY?

Behavioral optometry starts with the concept that vision is learned. When we’re born, we don’t know how to use our arms, legs and hands. We also don’t know how to use our eyes. We have to learn how to integrate them with the rest of our body. The brain must process what the eyes are seeing, and then it has to integrate that information with the other senses. From a behav- ioral standpoint, seeing requires a more holistic approach, getting all the senses to work together.

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SEE HOW YOU’RE DRIVING

Unlike some other skills we use in our everyday lives, driving relies almost exclusively on our sense of sight. We feel our feet on the ground as we move about or know we are sitting in a chair; we are fully aware of our surroundings. This sensory information lets us know where the ground or chair is. When you are driving, there is no movement of your body. It is totally about your vision and how precisely your two eyes work together. If your eyes are not aligned perfectly, you may think an object is closer or farther away than it actually is. This is how fender benders happen – through misjudging distances. Spatial awareness is a necessary visual skill for safe driving.


One aspect of being a good driver starts with good acuity, which is the ability to see well and identify things, such as signs on the road. When we are driving, a kind of tunnel vision comes into play. Our focus is ahead, paying attention to what is coming towards us, not to the sides, and unfortunately the majority of collisions come from the side. Enhancing peripheral vision and your useful field of vision can make a difference in these types of accidents. Drivers can learn how to relax, create a more open field of view and keep their gaze constantly moving to avoid accidents.


Many drivers experience problems with glare, which occurs when polarized light reflects off a flat surface such as water or snow.

Some cars have tinted windows, but a pair of polarized sunglasses can work better. A polarized filter is comparable to a Venetian blind because it cuts out the glaring light but still lets the regular light in. This is very important for driving safety. It can mean the difference between seeing a child running out from between parked cars versus hitting your brakes too late.


Dynamic acuity is another important part of driving. Many people can see things when they are stationary, but once the object or the person starts moving, they have trouble locking in on it and maintaining clarity. Processing speed impacts dynamic acuity. You can only process one or two things at a time. Is it possible to improve your reaction time? The recognize and response mechanism can be enhanced by working with a behavioral optometrist. He or she will first help you see things more clearly by adjusting your eyeglasses. You may work with a device that helps you improve reaction time. Only a few states require drivers to take an eye-chart test when they renew their licenses. Perhaps it is time more states had this requirement.

The biggest problem on the road today is distracted driving. With so many buttons, gizmos and gadgets in our cars – not to mention phones – it is easy to take your eyes off the road “for a just a second.” The best advice is to put away the distractions and don’t pick up your phone until you arrive safely at your destination.

DR. RICK GRAEBE

Dr. Graebe received both his B.S degree in Visual Science and Doctorate of Optometry from Indiana University. He is a Behavioral Optometrist and learning expert. He has been in private practice here in the Bluegrass area for the past 32 years.

more articles by dr rick graebe