PRISM – February 2012

In This Issue

February is Low Vision & Macular Degeneration Awareness Month!

To help raise awareness of the leading cause of new adult blindness in the United States, February has been designated Low Vision and Macular Degeneration Month. An eye disease that mostly affects older adults, macular degeneration has become a serious public health concern as our population lives longer.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye condition associated with aging, gradually causes the loss of clear central vision. The retina is located on the inside surface of the back of your eye. The macula, in the center of the retina, is responsible for your reading and fine vision. In AMD, the macula begins to deteriorate, causing symptoms that can range from blurred or slightly distorted central vision to a blind spot in the center of vision.

Symptoms
There are two forms of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Neither dry or wet AMD cause pain. But each has specific symptoms, as follows:

With dry AMD, the most common early sign is blurred vision. As macular function fades, people will see details less clearly in front of them, such as faces or words in a book. Often this blurred vision becomes less apparent in brighter light. If the loss of the light-sensing cells becomes great, people may see a small—but growing—blind spot in the middle of their field of vision. Dry macular degeneration is the more-common form of the disease and generally involves more gradual changes.
There’s no treatment available to reverse dry macular degeneration. But this doesn’t mean you’ll eventually lose all of your sight. Dry macular degeneration usually progresses slowly, and many people with the condition are able to live relatively normal, productive lives, especially if only one eye is affected.

With wet AMD, the classic early symptom is that straight lines appear crooked. This happens when blood from the leaking blood vessels in the back of the eye gathers and lifts the macula, distorting vision. A blind spot may also appear in wet AMD, resulting in loss of one’s central vision.

Remaining Vision
Although people with AMD are challenged by changes to their central vision, their peripheral vision generally remains intact. Central vision allows detection of fine detail, while peripheral vision is important to general activities and moving about.

Peripheral vision allows viewing an object without looking directly at it. People with AMD are often able to best utilize their peripheral vision for general mobility. Because it may be harder to recognize a face or to read a newspaper fluently while looking straight at it, people can learn to  turn or tilt their head or move their eyes in order to get the most use from their peripheral vision.

Prevention
In 2001 The National Eye Institute (NEI) completed a 10-year clinical study to evaluate the effects of a high-potency antioxidant vitamin and mineral dietary supplement on AMD. Results of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific, high-dose formulation of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. Be sure to always consult your eye care physician before beginning any such supplement regimen, especially if you take any medications.

Genetics, in combination with environmental influences, have also been found to play a key role in the development of AMD. Research laboratories around the world are now working on identifying gene defects that make individuals more susceptible to developing AMD. The greatest risk factor is age; although AMD may occur during middle age, studies show that people over age 60 are clearly at greater risk.

Your lifestyle also plays a role in reducing your risk of developing AMD. The NEI and the Mayo Clinic both support the following recommendations:

  • Have routine eye exams. Ask your eye doctor how often you should undergo routine eye exams. A dilated eye exam can identify macular degeneration.
  • Manage your other diseases. For example, if you have high blood pressure, take your medication and follow your doctor’s instructions for controlling the condition.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop macular degeneration than are nonsmokers.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Keeping your weight down diminishes the negative effects associated with extra pounds on the circulatory system.
  • Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Choose a healthy diet, with foods like dark leafy green which contain antioxidant vitamins that reduce your risk of developing dry macular degeneration.
  • Include fish in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and nuts, may reduce the risk of dry macular degeneration.

Treatment
There’s no treatment available to reverse dry macular degeneration. But this doesn’t mean you’ll eventually lose all of your sight. Dry macular degeneration usually progresses slowly, and many people with the condition are able to live normal, productive lives. Your doctor may recommend annual eye exams to see if your condition is progressing.

Wet macular degeneration usually begins as dry macular degeneration. It’s not clear what causes wet macular degeneration to develop. Early detection and treatment of wet macular degeneration may help reduce the extent of vision loss and, in some instances, improve vision. Treatment for wet AMD may include the injection of a medication directly into the eye to decrease leakage from abnormal blood vessels and shrink those vessels.

It is promising to know that there is ongoing research regarding AMD. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms stated above, please contact your eye care physician for an evaluation.

For those who have been diagnosed with AMD, wet or dry, SightConnection provides individualized services designed to maximize your ability to maintain your independence and lead an active life. For more information contact us at (206) 525-5556, or email us at info@sightconnection.org.

Client Story: Jean Yu

Jean Yu has made her life a strong, vibrant, and cheerful example of what is possible for someone who loves a challenge, isn’t afraid to work hard and enjoys living each day to the fullest. At 81, and despite the challenges of living with low vision, Jean remains very active. But the road to her many accomplishments has been an arduous one, filled with fascinating adventure and challenges well met.

Jean endured a very tumultuous time during her youth. Born in 1931 in Taiwan under Japanese rule, during a time of enforced cultural assimilation, Jean received a compulsory Japanese education. She grew up speaking Japanese at school, but spoke her native Taiwanese language at home with her parents. After the WWII surrender of Japanese forces, Taiwan became a place of social and political upheaval. An estimated 20,000-30,000 Taiwanese civilians were executed during this period of the imposition of the longest martial law rule in the world (over 38 years). The changing parade of rulers and invaders laid the ground work for the young Jean’s facility in later mastering a combined total of four languages: Taiwanese, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and English.

During the post-war years as a teenager, Jean became outraged when she learned that, under Communist rule, local fishermen were forced to show identification before their fleets were allowed to leave the docks for the fishing grounds where they earned their living. That’s when she vowed to start photographing them, and to later write their story even though she was very afraid of what might happen to her if she were caught. She was proud to give the fishermen the pictures she had made of them. She became a self-taught photographer at a time when resources such as film and camera gear were very expensive and not easily attainable—converting her bedroom into a small darkroom and sewing heavy dark sleeves under which she changed her film.

Jean’s father worked as an engineer at a sugar company on Taiwan. Later, Jean herself followed in his footsteps, becoming an engineer at the same company, and met her future husband there. After they were married, the Yu’s moved to the United States where Jean once again undertook mastering the language, this time English. Her husband eventually became a researcher in the scientific field of Biology, while Jean began her career in Mechanical Drawing, creating scale drawings of aircraft engines for the U.S. Department of Defense on Boeing aircrafts. Jean had also been developing her artistic skills since she was young with drawing and painting. Throughout her life she continued to create and explore art forms and became an expert seamstress, designing all of her own patterns and sewing all of her clothes for herself and her family. Later, when she was in her 40’s and 50’s, Jean was invited to become a photographic model for a variety of Boeing’s advertising campaigns. She was featured in these ads all over the world.

When Jean was 57 years old, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She had always endured poor vision in one of her eyes, and this diagnosis threatened a lot of her plans. Technical drawing, teaching painting classes, pursuing her interests in making paintings, sewing and reading—these visually demanding activities were her passions and she was devastated at the prospect of giving them up. But Jean has never been afraid to ask for help, and this is where SightConnection comes into her story.

After working with eye care physicians and specialists, Jean came into the low vision clinic at SightConnection. Here she received a comprehensive functional visual evaluation and received a prescription for magnification. Working with our low vision technicians, Jean discovered the many tools, techniques and options available to help her learn how to continue to be independent. After the death of her husband, this became even more important. Jean says that the assistance she received really helped her change into a new life.

Today, Jean is very active in her church and community. She reads the Bible in three languages, as well as novels and studies on archeology with the help of a closed circuit television she received from SightConnection. She continues working on a book she hopes to publish, writing on her computer with the help of assistive technology (talking software) about the stories she collected long ago from the persecuted fishermen and her life story. She enjoys listening to talking books and genealogy on tapes.

With the help SightConnection’s rehabilitative specialist, Jean learned to thread a needle and continues working on sewing projects at home. She has found great satisfaction serving as a tutor and mentor to graduate students studying languages, and continuing to entertain her friends and family in her lovely home.

When asked about the impact SightConnections’s services and trainings have had on her life, she beams. “SightConnection helped me become positive again after I lost my vision,” she says. With all the help and support I’ve received I have been able to continue to remain independent in my home. With their help, I found a support group that has been very helpful, too. I have learned how to manage tasks and how to continue doing my creative projects. I highly recommend the services available with SightConnection!”
Jean wants to send a message of encouragement to others who are living with vision loss, whether newly diagnosed or dealing with all its inherent chances. She says: “Don’t pity yourself! You must fight for all you can do and become. The road will not be smooth! But one must have courage to meet such crises and challenges!”

Take it from someone who knows—enhancing the ability of people with vision loss to lead active, independent lives is what SightConnection strives to do! Thanks Jean!

Visit our website, www.sightconnection.org for more information on SightConnection programs and services, or to find links to our retail store.

Free Tax Help: The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Preparation Program

It’s a new year and we all know what that means: tax time!

Here at SightConnection we know that for most people living with low vision, it’s very important to build extra time into their schedule for completing special projects and meeting deadlines. That’s why we want to remind you that its time to begin gathering all the information needed to meet the April 18th deadline for filing your 2011 taxes. To that end, we’d like to let you know about some great programs provided by the Internal Revenue Service to help people meet that deadline.

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs offer free tax help for taxpayers who qualify.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
The VITA Program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally, $50,000 and below) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. Certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations receive training to help prepare basic tax returns in communities across the country. VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations. Most locations also offer free electronic filing. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 1-800-906-9887 or check out the VITA program on the IRS website.

Trained community volunteers may help with special credits, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. Individuals taking advantage of the e-file program will receive their refunds in half the time compared to returns filed on paper—even faster when tax refunds are deposited directly into one’s bank account.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly
The TCE Program provides free tax help to people aged 60 and older.  Trained volunteers from non-profit organizations provide free tax counseling and basic income tax return preparation for senior citizens. Volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. For more information on TCE, call 1-800-906-9887, or check out the TCE program at the IRS website.

Free Tax Help for Veterans
Many of the military-based VITA sites provide assistance to Veterans as well as military families.  To find out of your local installation has the tax preparation service available for Veterans, call 1-800-906-9887.

As a Veteran, you may be eligible for free basic income tax preparation assistance at other local IRS sponsored community-based, volunteer tax return preparation sites.  To be eligible for free assistance through these programs you must meet certain age and income requirements.  Visit the IRS website for more information on Veteran programs.

Veterans of all ages can prepare and e-file their federal tax returns for free through the IRS Free File Program available on IRS.gov.  Free File is offered through a public-private partnership between the IRS and brand-name tax software companies. Free File allows you to safely and securely download software for at home tax preparation and filing.  Free File software is for taxpayers who earn $58,000 or less.

Find out more about filing or paying your taxes at the IRS website.

SightConnection Needs Your E-Waste!

As the New Year begins, we at SightConnection want to let you know that getting rid of your old electronics at no charge is now very easy. Helping to enhance the lives of people living with vision loss can be done at the same time!

We work with residents and small businesses of King and Snohomish counties to reclaim and recycle old TVs, computers and computer monitors (electronic waste). Instead of having consumer electronics end up illegally in the dump, donations of these items can generate funds to support our services which help low vision and blind persons in our region.

Working within state-approved e-cycling guide lines, SightConnection will come to your home or business (must be 50 employees or under) to pick up your e-waste. We also, of course, always welcome your donations of gently used clothing and household goods.

SightConnection continues to strive to be ‘green’ and to provide better service to you by providing a hassle-free way to dispose of electronics. All donated e-waste is recycled within the U.S. according to state law—nothing gets sold or shipped to foreign countries.

If you are no longer able to drive, or are looking for a way to get rid of that old car in the driveway, you can also donate your vehicle to SightConnection! We’ll arrange to pick it up for free and complete all the necessary paperwork, including handling the title transfer. We also provide you with the tax deduction receipt.
***We no longer accept vehicle donations as of September 2012.***

So please, tell your all friends and family about SightConnection and our free pick-up E-waste program. Help support our services for low vision and blind persons in your community!

To learn more or to schedule a pick-up, please call (800) 472-2244 or schedule a pickup directly online.

SightConnection Store: Valentine Gifts

Sonic Boom Sweetheart Alarm Clock - SightConnectionSonicAlert Sweetheart Alarm Clock — it could be the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your special someone! This cute, fun alarm clock will wake even the deepest sleeper.

It comes with an extra-loud 113dB audio adjustable tone and volume control alarm, as well as a powerful 12 volt bed shaker (place it under your pillow or mattress and it will vibrate with a vengeance when it’s time to wake up!).

The unique multicolored digital display (complete with high/low dimmer switch) adds to the fun, and there is a battery backup in case of power outage (batteries not included). This fun alarm clock will make sure you (or your sweetie) never sleep through your alarm again!

Visit our newly designed SightConnection Store website for more fun gift ideas.