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Growing Old, Not Going Blind

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Advances in eye treatments can mitigate and perhaps prevent vision loss in older drivers.

According to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) Eye-Q survey, 78% of adults aged 55 and above reported experiencing some vision loss. Age-related vision conditions can creep up on us as we grow older; unfortunately, they are often ignored until they are in their advanced stages.

This can make driving dangerous, affecting our ability to read road signs, drive at night, or cope with glare from the sun or oncoming headlights. Serious cases of glaucoma and macular degeneration could lead to blurred vision and vision loss, making driving no longer possible.

Fortunately, with advances in medical treatments, there may now be a glimmer of hope for drivers with age-related vision problems. One area where research is being carried out is gene therapy; specifically, optogenetics, where genes that enable cells to produce light-sensitive proteins are delivered by a virus.

In a recent experiment at Harvard Medical School, scientists managed to revitalise the vision of ageing mice using genes that are present during early development. The work focused on glaucoma-induced vision loss in mice. The team used a virus to deliver the genes into the retina of mice with optic nerve injuries. These genes are said to be active when the embryos of the mice are developing. The treatment promoted nerve regeneration while also reversing the glaucoma-like condition the mice were plagued with.

According to the team, the study marks the first time that glaucoma-induced vision loss was not just slowed down in living animals, but reversed. For mice with age-related vision loss but no glaucoma, the effect was similar as well, with the mice regaining the vision they had previously lost.

More work on animals needs to be done before clinical trials can be carried out on people with glaucoma. However, the initial trials show promise, and could potentially revolutionise the treatment of the eye and many other organs affected by ageing, attest the researchers.

Another regenerative approach to treating eye diseases is stem-cell therapy. As stem cells can develop into any type of cell, they could be used to grow fresh retinal cells for transplantation into the eye to replace lost ones. Stem-cell therapies hold great promise for conditions such as advanced macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa, which is a group of rare genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.

In 2018, the London Project to Cure Blindness announced the findings of a Phase 1 trial, in which a set of RPE (retinal pigment epithelium) cells was transplanted into the retinas of two people with wet AMD, a serious form of AMD involving abnormal growth and leakage of blood vessels. Both recipients tolerated the procedure well and were able to read 21–29 more letters on a reading chart than before treatment. While still in its infancy, the initial results bode well for certain age-related eye conditions.

All this is good news, indeed, but this doesn’t mean drivers can ignore vision problems. Those aged 60 and above are well advised to go for regular eye examinations so that they can identify problems in the early stages and take steps to correct or manage their vision.

AA Singapore is continuously coming up with innovative products for the motoring public, with special privileges for its Members. In fact, there is a particular insurance product that’s perfect for senior drivers: AA Senior Motor Plus, the first motor insurance policy in Singapore tailor-made for senior drivers.

The result of the partnership between AAS Insurance Agency (AAS-IA) and Liberty Insurance, this policy even offers free medical examination and 24/7 roadside and claim assistance. Besides the benefits, there is also an additional 10% discount exclusively for AA Members.

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