The emergency response lifestyle: precursor for the #1 cause of blindness, age-related macular degeneration.

It’s no surprise that eyesight worsens as you age. It happens gradually, but there’s one decade where major eye disease becomes more common: in your 50s. For Australians aged 55 and above, four conditions account for over 80% of vision loss:

  1. Age-related macular degeneration
  2. Cataracts
  3. Diabetes-related eye diseases
  4. Glaucoma [1]

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss, and people should begin to prepare in their 50s. But high-risk groups should prioritise preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of eye issues later in life.

Yes, age and genetics play a role, but the most important preventable risk factor is smoking.[2] Consuming a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables is also a known natural preventer of AMD. 

While there are no direct links between first responders and AMD, emergency workers are more likely to smoke as a coping mechanism, as well as resort to, and rely on, fast food options both because of shift work and as a ‘escapism’ tactic.

So, what is Age-Related Macular Degeneration? 

It’s a progressive condition that affects the central part of the retina (macula) – the area at the back of the eye that provides fine vision for daily tasks such as reading and driving. Age-Related Maculopathy (ARM) is the early stages of this disease. The vision is unaffected, and people don’t know they have the condition, until it progresses. Once advanced, a person is legally blind and performing daily activities independently becomes a challenge.

The eyes and heart

Research shows a connection between obesity, cardiovascular disease, and age-related macular degeneration. Given that shift workers are at a greater risk of heart disease and sleep disorders, they need to pay attention to blood pressure levels, diet, exercise, and sleep.[3]

The way to prevent this incurable disease is to avoid smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, follow an antioxidant and vitamin-rich diet, and consume omega-3 fatty acids – a naturally powerful way to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.[4]

Early detection can save sight (and lives)

Annual eye assessments are required to detect warning signs. For emergency support staff, comprehensive tests are imperative. As emergency services are prone to the lifestyle triggers of AMD, and rely on sight to function well on duty, eye tests should be as important as physical strength and mental health.

We understand the demands of front line work more than any other insurer. After all, we've been looking after the health and wellbeing of the police community for more than 85 years. Whether you're already a member or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We're here to help. 

You watch out for our community. We do the same, for you.

Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.