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‘If I get a letter in the mail, I can’t read it’: Senior with vision loss touts importance of eye exams

HALIFAX – When Ron Whidden looks at a painting of his childhood home, it does not look quite like it used to.

To Whidden, the central part of the painting is foggy, if he only looks at it with his left eye, while the periphery is sharp.

The 87-year-old Halifax man has age-related macular degeneration. He is one of about 1.5 million Canadians who deal with that type of vision loss, according to the CNIB.

The chances of developing vision loss increase with age, and for Whidden, it was a random eye check-up that informed him of his condition.

“My eyesight was really good. I really didn’t think I had a problem,” he said.

But the ophthalmologist told him differently.

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“He said you have hardening of the arteries in your left eye and that could become a problem.”

Whidden has now lost central vision in his left eye.

Though he can still watch TV, he can no longer read and must take extra precaution when on stairs.

“It’s not difficult to do regular things like getting up and doing regular chores,” he said. “The main problem is not being able to read. That’s sad because…reading was a great comfort to me.”

He admits that he gets upset at times with his vision loss and his subsequent loss of independence.

“If I get a letter in the mail, I can’t read it, someone has to help me read that letter,” he said.

Whidden is one of 34,000 Nova Scotians with vision loss, a number that is expected to climb as the province’s seniors age.

The growing number is the reason behind the CNIB’s latest awareness campaign, titled Worth a thousand words: Preserve your vision.

It features pictures in their original state and shows how they might look to someone suffering from vision loss.

“It’s aimed to raise awareness of vision health and the impact of vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema,” said CNIB Programs Manager Peter Parsons.

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Dr. Cruess, chief of ophthalmology in the Capital Health District, says that getting your eyes checked is the smartest thing you can do to prevent vision loss.

“In the past, when we had to say, ‘You have xyz condition but there’s not very much we can do’, now that’s rarely the case. If somebody has a problem, there’s almost always something we can do about it,” he said.

Cruess said that individuals 50 and over should get their eyes checked every year.

The chief of ophthalmology said there are ways that you can prevent vision loss.

“Many of the risk factors we talk about for cardiovascular disease apply to eye disease as well. Eating healthy, plenty of vegetables and antioxidants, plenty of fruits in our diet really does help all sorts of conditions. Not smoking would be number two,” he said.

Though Whidden sometimes gets upset about his vision loss, he hopes his story encourages seniors to get their eyes checked regularly.

“We don’t realize just how important our eyes are until we begin to lose some of the ability to see with them,” he said.

One in seven Canadians will develop a serious eye disease in their life, according to statistics from the CNIB. Figures also show that every 12 minutes, someone in Canada begins to lose his or her vision.

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