Older Women with Strong Bones May Run Lower Risk of Common Vision Problem
Age-related maculopathy (ARM), an eye disease, is the leading cause of severe vision loss in older Americans. Also known as "macular degeneration," ARM affects the macula, the part of your eye that enables you to see things in the center of your field of vision in detail.
Over time, ARM causes increasing damage to your central vision. Roughly 9 million people in the US who are 40 or older have some form of ARM.
There are treatments for ARM, but they are limited. Researchers are trying to find both new treatments and ways to prevent the disease.
Some research concerning ARM in women suggests that those who started having their menstrual periods early and went through menopause late run a lower risk of ARM and are exposed to higher levels of the "female" sex hormone estrogen than other women. These results suggest that higher lifetime exposure to estrogen could help protect women from ARM.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Women with higher levels of estrogen over their lifetimes, appear to have stronger bones, or a higher bone mineral density (BMD), than women with lower levels of estrogen. Therefore, testing bone mineral density is one way to find out whether or not a woman has been exposed to high levels of estrogen over much of her life.
To see whether women with higher BMD has a lower risk for ARM, researchers reviewed medical records of more than 1,000 women volunteers of an osteoporosis ("brittle bones") study during their 10th year clinic visit. All of the women were 75 years old or older. In addition to other tests, each woman in the study had her BMD measured and had special photographs taken of the inside surface of her eye, including her macula.
After checking the pictures for signs of ARM, researchers found that women with a higher BMD were less likely to have the eye disease than women with a lower BMD. This may be because women with higher BMD had higher lifetime exposure to estrogen, which would help protect them from ARM, the researchers report. Also, it is possible that other things which boost bone strength may be responsible for the lower risk among women with high BMD, such as high intake of fruits and vegetables, or genes that may be associated with both BMD and ARM. However, more research is needed, the researchers conclude.
What Should I Do?
Adults 65 and older should have a complete eye examination every 1 to 2 years. Ask your healthcare provider how often you should get your eyes checked. If your provider says you have ARM, find out more about the disease and available treatment choices.
For more information about vision and vision problems, including ARM, in older adults, visit the cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration sections of Health in Aging.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Bone Mineral Density and Age Related Maculopathy in Older Women." It is in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 55, Issue 5). The report is authored by Robin L. Seitzman, PhD; Carol M. Mangione, MD, MSPH; Jane A. Cauley, DrPH; Kristine E. Ensrud, MD, MPH; Katie L. Stone, PhD; Steven R. Cummings, MD; Marc C. Hochberg, MD, MPH; Teresa A. Hillier, MD, MS; Fei Yu, PhD, Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD; and the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group.