Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Julie Heraghty, shares her insight into Macular Degeneration Awareness Week 2017 (21 to 27 May):
2017 marked the Foundation’s fifteenth year of Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.
Each year we grow and build on our past success, and this again was proven correct in 2017. This outcome could only be achieved with the support of our major ongoing corporate partners Bayer and Blackmores and the commitment of Optometry Australia to our Awareness Week.
Our communication activities focused around this theme, along with new independent research commissioned by the Foundation. Our research focused on the health of 50 to 64 year olds to understand the impact that caring for ageing parents and grandchildren had on their eye health.
Our carers research revealed over 2.5 million caregivers in this age group are providing weekly care to aged parents or grandchildren, and that many are sacrificing their own health, particularly their eye health, to support those for whom they are caring. You can read about our research here
There was outstanding support from the media including:
Sharing powerful stories
Foundation Patron Ita Buttrose, Ambassador Jean Kittson and Chairman Robert Kaye all took part in media interviews, each sharing their personal stories of macular degeneration. The common theme of these personal stories was the impact loss of sight had on a parent, and the resulting effect on all the family.
Jean Kittson highlighted the challenges of juggling family and work commitments and the care of ageing parents. Jean’s experience aligned with our carers research findings of the pressures faced by many in her age group and the impact of caring for an aged parent, and in Jean’s case, a parent living with vision loss.
Once again members of our macular degeneration community were generous in their willingness to share their powerful and moving stories.
One such person was 85 year old Nancy Little whose inspiring and heart warming story of the challenges of living with vision loss, was one of our most popular posts in Awareness Week on the Foundation’s social media platforms.
“It would be absolutely wonderful if in the future a cure could be found for macular degeneration for my children’s generation and my grandchildren’s generation – for all people.” Nancy Little
Nancy’s story can be viewed here
Awareness Week is always a busy time for our Helpline – and 2017 was no exception! We’ve had the opportunity to speak to so many people across the country answering their questions and helping navigate the macular degeneration journey. We have in some cases identified serious eye disease through the symptom recognition information discussed in various media.
For a second year running, we reached out to the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities especially Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Vietnamese. We are concerned that awareness of macular degeneration is still low in our CALD communities.
There were calls from people who were unaware that the sudden changes in their vision were not just signs of ageing, but symptoms of macular degeneration, and that there was a high risk of losing vision.
My staff worked tirelessly to ensure that every caller’s concerns were met with the support, guidance and compassion. Because of the dedication and vigilance of my staff, high risk callers visited eye care professionals, received timely diagnosis, and are now being treated. Saving sight is a great achievement!
Our partners and supporters
Eye health professionals across the county, along with other associated groups and politicians, have supported the campaign by raising awareness through their own networks and local communities. This support has ranged from politicians sharing social media posts, optometrists generating stories in their local papers, and in practice / store promotions, and even a campus information stand held by orthoptic students La Trobe University.
Inaugural research symposium
The Foundation also hosted an inaugural research symposium in Sydney which shone the light onto current and future research into macular degeneration. Keynote speaker, Professor Paul Mitchell, who is one of the world's leading experts on the epidemiology and treatment of macular diseases, spoke about the major advances in macular degeneration research to date and discussed future directions, challenges and hopes for macular degeneration research.
Updates from A/Professor Gerald Liew and Professor Damien Harkin were provided on the current findings of their individual research projects part funded by the Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grants Program. The symposium was an opportunity for guests to hear directly from leading researchers and to understand the importance of funding future research.
More work to be done
Macular Degeneration Awareness Week may be over for another year but our work in raising awareness of the importance of prevention and early detection to saving sight continues.
Remember – if you’re over 50 have an eye test and macula check – it could save your sight.
Chief Executive Officer