Research released today for Macular Degeneration Awareness Week (27 May – 2 June 2012) Has revealed Australians significantly underestimate the role of family history in developing macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in Australia.
The national survey commissioned by the Macular Degeneration Foundation (MDF) found nearly three in four Australians (71%) did not correctly identify the role family history plays in developing the disease. This is despite research showing there is a 50% chance of developing macular degeneration when a family history of the disease is present.
Alarmingly, the research also found an estimated 2.1 million Australians over the age of 50 years, those most at risk, are unaware that having a parent with macular degeneration increases their chances of developing the disease.
Also, according to the research, one in three Australians incorrectly believes vision loss caused by macular degeneration is just a normal part of ageing.
CEO of the Macular Degeneration Foundation, Julie Heraghty said, "The results of the research are of great concern as about one in seven Australians over the age of 50 (one million people) have some evidence of macular degeneration, a chronic disease with a prevalence four times that of Dementia and more than half that of Diabetes.
"Australians need to know macular degeneration is not a normal part of ageing. Those most at risk are those over 50 years or with a family history of macular degeneration. This is why it is critical to make your family's macular health a priority and have your eyes tested and macula checked," said Heraghty.
One of Australia's favourite entertainers and MDF Ambassador, Jean Kittson, knows only too well the importance of family history when it comes to macular degeneration as her mother was diagnosed with the disease 15 years ago.
"When I tell people I have a 50 percent chance of getting it too, most people are shocked. But one of the greatest things I learnt from my mother is the importance of family and talking with each other. Sharing family stories and finding out who you are and your family health history could make the difference in saving your sight.
"Since Mum and my two uncles were diagnosed I've learned about macular degeneration, so I am vigilant in taking care of my family's nutrition by preparing food that helps protect our eye health. I also make sure I have my eyes tested and macula checked often," said Kittson.
"My daughters are 14 and 20, and I want to do all that I can to help them minimise the possibility of them developing MD. I want them to be able to see their children and their grand children grow and to be able to be independent for a long as possible," said Kittson.
Julie Heraghty says, "When you're with your family next talk about your history of macular degeneration. We want all Australians and their families to see a future and not have precious memories robbed by this disease."
Research key findings:
One in three Australians incorrectly believe vision loss caused by macular degeneration is a normal part of ageing.
Only one in five Australians (16%) correctly identified the chance of developing macular degeneration as 50% if you have a direct family history.
Generation X (aged 35-49) is more aware than their parents and children about the genetic risk of developing macular degeneration.
More than half of the population incorrectly identified spending less time on the computer and resting your eyes as ways to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration.
Those aged 16-24 years were the most misinformed, with 81% incorrectly identifying that spending less time on the computer would reduce their risk and 77% saying resting their eyes would help.
Most of those interviewed incorrectly identified iron (55%) and calcium (38%) as nutrients important for eye health, while it is lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and omega-3s that are crucial for macular health.
About the survey
The Macular Degeneration Foundation commissioned Galaxy Research, a leader in Australian research to conduct this survey in February 2012 including a sample size of 1,100 respondents aged 16 years and older.