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December 2, 2007
By Scott Gayer
Robert Welch wants people to see the remainder of their days as clearly as possible.
A 2004 Nevada biochemistry graduate now completing a second major in nursing, Welch works for Nevada Retina Associates as a registered nurse. Even though much of his time is spent at his work, Welch finds time to help educate seniors on how to detect the early signs of macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that often goes easily undetected. It occurs when the macula, a portion of the retina, begins to deteriorate. This deterioration ultimately causes blurry central vision and can destroy central vision to the point of legal blindness, leaving the person with only peripheral vision. The leading cause of macular degeneration is simply linked to old age.
According to Welch, many seniors fall victim to the disease simply because they have never been taught by their doctors how to detect the disease on their own. Treatment in the area of macular degeneration has also exploded within the last two years. However, this groundbreaking treatment is of no use to anybody if they cannot first identify the disease in its early stages.
"We just take our vision for granted," Welch says, adding that one reason the disease is so easy to overlook is because it doesn't cause pain. "If macular degeneration hurt then we would be all over it."
The method Welch uses to help seniors prevent macular degeneration is simple: the Amsler grid. This grid acts as a self-serving eye test that seniors can use at any time to detect changes in their central vision. The grid is made up of graph lines with a central focusing point. When seniors try to focus in on the center of the grid, they can then detect distortions in their own vision.
The amsler grid is useful because it can pick up even small changes in vision. This is important because early detection of disease advancement can lead to treatment if they can notice these small changes. Welch said that the Amsler grid has been in use for some time now, yet many patients have not known that it even existed.
"They think of their eyes as just a light switch," Welch says, referring to those who take their vision for granted. "They're just supposed to work."
When viewing the future of his work Welch is hopeful. The technology to help thwart macular degeneration now exists. That knowledge has given him the drive to help educate the elderly more than ever before.
"We can totally help control the disease now," Welch says. "We can't cure it, but we can make it a little bit better."
Scott A. Gayer is an undergraduate journalism major working in University Communications.